Tiny Toll Bar

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Toll Bar Fish & Chips

A short-term investment has turned into a permanent venture for the owners of Toll Bar Fish & Chips in the pretty Peak District village of Stoney Middleton

Toll Bar Fish and Chips claims to be the only Grade-II listed fish and chip takeaway in England and has been proudly serving fish and chips since it opened in 1926 – almost 100 years ago. However, its roots date back much further, to 1840 when it was erected by a local stonemason and joiner for the modest sum of £144, intended to levy tolls for road usage. Its distinctive octagonal shape was designed to match that of the local church.

As well as its interesting historical standing, Toll Bar also earns accolades for its intimate proportions, possibly ranking as one of the nation’s smallest fish and chip takeaways. With room for a two pan frying range only, it nevertheless manages to accommodate a remarkable array of offerings all cooked to order. These include the usual chip shop fare alongside gluten-free fish and chips, vegan “fish”, steamed fish, and homemade Yorkshire fishcakes. Customers can enjoy all this alongside a bottle of its own locally brewed beer made two miles away by Eyam Brewery. 

Big shoes to fill

Under the ownership of Peter Grafton and his wife Kirsten, who purchased the business six years ago as a short-term project to take them through to retirement, there were some big shoes to fill in taking over the mantel of keeping this historic shop going. 

“The pressure was huge,” says Peter. “I never felt pressure like it and I’ve done a PhD and been the managing director of a group of companies so I know what pressure is. But nothing at all prepared me for walking into a shop full of customers expecting real high quality fish and chips when I had never cooked any in my life.”

With the previous owner remaining on board for six months as per the sale agreement, coupled with their proactive enrolment in training courses and the introduction of Peter’s son Harry to the business, they seamlessly stepped into their new roles and embraced the challenge. Their dedication has been rewarded, with the takeaway now serving up to 2,500 customers weekly.

“We’re a good chip shop, we are busy and we get fantastic reviews,” says Peter. “We don’t know of a chip shop out there that gets better Google scores than us. We’ve searched high and low but ours are 4.8. That’s excellent and we never ask anyone to leave us a review.”

One of Peter’s initial realisations when he took over the business was that the price the previous owner was charging for fish and chips – £7 – simply wasn’t enough. Promptly responding, Peter increased prices and established a steadfast policy: come 1st January every year prices would rise. Now sitting at £10.60, Peter believes it is a reflection of their commitment to quality and fairness. “It’s always hard to put up your prices but if you do it little and often, it’s better than one large one later on down the line.”

With utility and ingredient prices climbing sharply over the past 12 months, Peter and Harry have put their heads together to see where they can make savings. “We’ve never bought lower quality, but we’ve shopped around, changed suppliers, as well as cut out the middleman and doing that has saved us an absolute fortune,” says Peter. 

As opposed to previously buying their potatoes from an agent, they now buy directly from a farmer less than 10 miles away. It’s benefited the business in more ways than one with Peter saying: “You’ve got that line of communication to your grower when something’s not right.”

Buying a year’s worth of packaging up front, Peter also negotiated a fixed price arrangement with his potato farmer for the 12 months ahead. This not only ensures a stable supply of quality potatoes but also enables Peter to more effectively manage his finances throughout the year, providing a solid foundation for the business. “There’s always things you can do,” he says. 

Listed building

Operating within a listed building has not been easy. Almost every change – whether it’s putting in new lighting, changing the guttering or installing a bin – involves some element of council approval. The pair are currently waiting on a retrospective planning order to be approved for a glass door and canopy installed during Covid. “It’s difficult to make improvements,” says Peter. “When it’s a business, you’ve got to make money. Hopefully, the council will understand and they will work with us. After all, it’s been a chip shop now since 1926!”

Originally intending to operate the takeaway for a limited duration before selling, Peter’s plans have now changed with Harry developing a passion for the business and stepping in to take the reins and lead the shop forward.

Attracting a solid local following as well as a 30% boost from tourists in holiday season, for Harry it’s the variety of customers that attracts him to the job. 

“In truth, it’s the customers that make it enjoyable. There isn’t a job in the world that’s not been in the chip shop. I speak to people and there are jobs that they say they do that I wouldn’t even think existed. It’s so interesting talking to people and every day is a new day. You don’t know what you are going to get.”

With Harry’s newfound dedication and enthusiasm, the future of the business has taken on a fresh and promising outlook, marking a transition from a financial venture to a genuine commitment to its enduring success.

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