The owner of an East Yorkshire chippy has described the moment his business was named the UK’s best fish and chip takeaway as “totally unexpected” but says he is “honoured” by the accolade.
Whiteheads Fish & Chips, a family-run takeaway and 60-seater restaurant in the seaside town of Hornsea, picked up the award for Fish & Chip Takeaway of the Year at Tuesday’s National Fish and Chip Awards.
Taking a while for the news to sink in, owner Geoff Whitehead says his staff, who were watching live from the shop on social media, realised before he did. “It didn’t hit straight away. I was a little bit taken aback because it was unexpected. I couldn’t talk for a few minutes afterwards.
“It was a bittersweet moment for me because I lost my mother in March last year. She was not only my mother but my business partner as well. I was emotional about the fact she wasn’t there, she should have been enjoying this with me.”
Unsure if his shop would win, Geoff adds: “Ultimately, I believed in what I did because I’ve always liked to lead and I knew we had things in place that not a lot of others have. However, I’m a realist and I understand that there are always winners and losers. I’ve entered this competition three or four times and I’ve always made the Top 20 but never the Top 10. This was the first year.”
Each time of entering, Geoff has been spurred on to make further improvements, going on to achieve MSC certification, sending used cooking oil to be converted into biofuel, compacting cardboard and paper so it can be sold for recycling, and installing solar panels to produce their own electricity.
“You need to make sure that you’re doing the right things and ticking the right boxes,” he says. “Everything we do is about making sure we’re putting out a quality product and raising standards.
“If you keep plugging away, keep having a go, eventually you get recognised for it. Which is what has happened to us.
“I’m honoured, I’m really thrilled to be in this position. I want to be an ambassador for the industry and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Geoff opened the business in 1997 with his mother Hazel. `Despite being on a housing estate away from the seafront, it has seen off competition from bigger sites with prime locations.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride with lots of ups and lots of downs and it’s been exceptionally hard because, ultimately, my competition was one of the biggest around,” says Geoff. “I had to work my way up the right way – the hard way but the right way – which was getting customers by raising the standards and serving a quality product.
“I never wavered from my belief of making sure that the standards were high and also doing it the right way. And believing in what we were doing.”
The business thrived during Covid when lockdown eased and vast swathes of people headed to the coast, passing Whiteheads on the way.
“We had an extraordinary 18-month period where everybody just wanted to be out,” says Geoff. “And we ended up with an awful lot of custom from that.”
With VAT lowered to 5% and trade buoyant, Geoff took the opportunity to invest in his business, refurbishing the restaurant, buying new equipment and sourcing environmentally friendly solutions including an electric car and solar panels.
“I’m not into money, it’s not what makes my boat float. I’m all about standards and quality. I did everything, everything I could think of to improve the business. I flipped the place upside down and reinvested right from top to bottom, and I bought everything brand new, knowing full well that it had to come to a stop sooner or later, and that I didn’t want any breakdowns costing me fortunes.”
Since returning from the National Fish & Chip Awards in London, Geoff has had multiple radio, TV and newspaper interviews, including a live appearance on GB News.
“My phone’s been red hot, but it’s not just my phone, people are stopping me in the street and shaking my hand. I’ve had a message from a friend in Canada, saying congratulations. It’s just been phenomenal.”
Expecting a surge in trade any day now, Geoff says he’s ready.
“We’re nice and steady at the moment, and I like nice and steady. But once word gets out, which it will, I expect it will explode, I have no doubt about that. I’ve seen past winners and how it affects them.
“I have some fantastic guys working for me and with me, and we are ready.
“I cannot sing their praises highly enough, and if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be in this position. I have an amazing team with some wonderful people who I love to bits and the majority have been with me for years and years. They are pretty much family now.”