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Building longevity 

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The Pantrini family is celebrating 100 years in Whitley Bay by unveiling new branding for its award winning fish and chip shop

When 12-year-old Attilio Pantrini came to Whitley Bay, the seaside town on the north east coast of England, from Italy with his cousins in the 1920s, he set about a chain of events that a century later would see the family name associated with one of the busiest fish and chip shops in the area. 

Initially working for his cousins selling ice cream from a horse and cart at the beach at nearby Cullercoats, Attilio bought the Lido Cafe on Whitley Bay seafront in 1945 and then The Wonder Bar, which in 1975 was renamed Pantrini’s. 

Through extensions, expansion and investment, successive generations of the Pantrini family have grown the fish and chips business in both size and stature and today it not only boasts a 100-seater sit-down restaurant and a takeaway but a thriving click and collect and delivery service.

“We started doing deliveries about six years ago,” says Lee Pantrini, great-grandson of Attilio, and who has run the business since 2007 with wife Sarah. 

“Until the pandemic, deliveries represented 10% of the business, today it’s more like 50%. That’s carried us through the pandemic and we’ve put a lot of time, effort and money into improving the service times and how we deliver.”

A more recent addition has been the incorporation of a dark kitchen under the brand Stacked. Offering American-style comfort food, it’s an opportunity for Pantrini’s to grow its business further and gain new customers through diversification of product offering while utilising the current business operation. 

Lee explains: “We previously owned another restaurant in Whitley Bay called Crab & Waltzer and created a pop-up installation at markets and festivals selling gourmet hotdogs, loaded fries and pimped up American-style pancakes and it was really well received. It was a natural progression to meet demand with a takeaway concept, it was easy to set up using the equipment we had on site and it’s performing exceptionally well.”

Since Lee has been at the helm he’s made several changes, all designed to give the brand longevity and push it forward. For example, he’s put the spotlight on homemade items and now desserts, mushy peas, tartare sauce and nine varieties of fishcakes are all made from scratch. 

Attilio made three promises to his customers all those years ago; provide value for money, look after every customer and use top quality ingredients. The family values and delivers on each of these promises every day. 

“Homemade was the norm before the convenience of frozen food,” says Lee. “I started to notice during the late 2000s that the culture was changing, people wanted to know more about provenance, sustainability and general food quality. I knew that taking more control over the sourcing, preparation and product would give us a USP and help us stand out.”

One hundred years of customer facing experience certainly gives a unique insight into the wants and needs of customers and this has allowed the business to truly adapt its offering. Rather than buying in 6-8oz fillets, which it had been doing for some time, Lee has gone back to prepping fish daily on-site – something he grew up witnessing his great grandfather spending many an hour doing – and which gives Pantrini’s the opportunity to offer customers more choice.

“When I go to a fish and chip shop, if I have the choice, I will always choose the loin because I like a much chunkier piece of fish, whereas we find that with the seniors, they think they’re getting ripped off if they get the short, fat portion. This way every customer gets exactly what they want.”

Always striving for quality, Lee took the decision a few years ago to outsource his chip prep when he moved to pre-cut chips supplied by a local family-run farm Particularly Good Potatoes in Northumberland. It was a radical step but it has proven to be an excellent decision. 

“Our chips must remain consistently great regardless of how busy we are, there’s no excuse. But we found in the summer we would have one or sometimes two lads prepping chips all day just to keep up. And sometimes this just was not sustainable at the high standards we set ourself.”

There were several boxes Lee needed to tick before he would commit. For example, he needed to ensure the supplier could deliver regularly to ensure freshness, that the type of potato was perfect, that the shelf life was adequate and, ultimately, that Pantrini’s could store them. The latter involved a £20,000 investment in a walk-in fridge but it’s a move Lee says has vastly improved processes.

With the pandemic putting pay to the family marking 100 years since Attilio started the Pantrini’s journey in Whitley Bay, Lee and his team are looking forward to celebrating this phenomenal achievement this year.

Bold new branding commission by a local artist ‘Lines Behind’ has already been unveiled, depicting the influences on Pantrini’s over the years. Local landmarks, influential family members and staff have been characterised and incorporated into the branding. This has been supported with merchandise including tote bags, mugs and Christmas baubles to allow customers a little piece of Pantrini’s in their home. 

And there are exciting plans to take the business further still. Proposals have been drawn up to convert the space above the restaurant into an interactive children’s play area with educational activities, while routes and events are being researched in a bid to expand the mobile side of the business too.

It certainly suggests a strong appetite for fish and chips, but it’s by no accident. When Lee first took over 15 years ago, approximately 65% of the business was through senior citizens, something  he knew would have to change if the business was to survive. 

By targeting more families and teens with different types of products and growing its social media audience, the senior market now makes up just 20% of the business. 

Lee adds: “I think the fact that Pantrini’s has consistently tried to stay ahead of the game has stood us in very good stead. We are lucky to be part of the constantly evolving Whitley Bay community. The number of independent food places here is incredible. I would go as far as saying they’re probably better than many of those in the centre of Newcastle, which are mostly corporate chains. There are some really good little niche food spots in Whitley Bay and that keeps us on our toes which we love.

“Pantrini’s has stood the test of time, operating for over 100 years, but that doesn’t give us a free pass, it makes us work harder to maintain our reputation and strive to improve for our customers, family, team and community.”

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