Building a business on freshness and quality, trade at Sandy’s in Folkestone, Kent, has surpassed all owner Andrew Burnett’s initial expectations
By his own admission, Andrew Burnett says Folkestone is blessed with a number of very good fish and chip shops. But his, nestled in a narrow, cobbled street just a few metres from the picturesque harbour, wins hands-down when it comes to location.
Standing at his three-pan counter range – installed 16 months ago when he took on the run-down chippy and invested £225,000 in a complete refurbishment – out of one window Andrew watches the local fishing boats slowing bob in, while out of the other, the day’s landings being filleted on the quayside ready for him to serve to customers that same lunchtime.
It’s this fresh fish – which can range from plaice, huss, skate, sea bass, hake, gurnard and, on the very odd occasion, cod – that Andrew loves to sell and which helps sets his business apart from others in town.
“I know the fish coming in today has been caught by the boat Opportunity,” says Andrew. “I know the skipper for that boat is Shaun. I know he laid nets last night off the bay. I get excited about selling his fish because it’s as fresh as you can get and it’s helping the local fishermen and the local families.”
Sandy’s also sells pies, sausages, chicken and a growing vegan menu, the latter added last year to help get the shop’s name out there shortly after it opened. “It’s a pain, cooking it all separately, but the amount of vegan sausages, burgers, nuggets and fish we serve is huge,” says Andrew.
It’s still the fresh, local fish that is brought to customers’ attention first, with a little, ‘just so you know, our fresh local fish today is…’ or ‘you know we’ve got a special today on…’ to everyone on entering.
“I’m very passionate about selling the fresh fish and it all comes down to education, marketing, pricing it right and engaging with the customers,” says Andrew. Get that right and he knows he can sell 100 portions of whatever he wants to sell that day.
Having owned five businesses in Folkestone over the years and previously worked for Harry Ramsden’s and Deep Blue Restaurants, Andrew is a numbers guy but he also knows about quality too. With his cod and chips priced at £11.80, it’s some £3 more than his closest competitor, but Andrew isn’t worried. “We all serve the same products pretty much down here but what makes us different is the quality of what we buy and the effort that goes into serving it.”
As well as top quality potatoes, fish, chicken and saveloys, it’s branded drinks in the fridge and condiments on the counter, and the packaging is biodegradable. Chips are freshly prepared daily and oil filtered and changed regularly.
“What is the point of cooking beautiful fish and chips and then putting some watered-down vinegar on it?” says Andrew. “What’s the point of getting beautiful batter and putting it in old oil? If you’re going to do it, do it properly and charge that extra pound or two for the product.”
Andrew is fully aware he’s not going to satisfy everyone, but he also knows those that he does will keep coming back. “We do get a couple of negatives, saying the food was nice, but my God is it expensive. But I don’t care about that. At the end of the day, we’re here to make money and serve a quality product.”
Andrew was fortunate that when he took the business on he signed a five-year fixed contract for his energy which, although expensive at the time, is shielding him from the current hikes.
This, combined with the facts that sales exceeded all expectations in his first year and Sandy’s made the Top 10 in the Best Newcomer Award at this year’s National Fish & Chip Awards, Andrew decided to give back to his local community on Christmas day. Joined by his wife, son and a staff member, Sandy’s opened for four hours and served 150 free meals to anyone in need, no questions asked.
“I thought, we’re in a position where we can do something to help.
“A lot of suppliers stepped in and helped too. A local bakery supplied loads of cakes, and a little tea shack around the corner opened up and gave away free teas and coffees. It was such a lovely community spirit.
“Some of the messages we’ve had from locals have brought me to tears. I’m already planning on doing it next year.”
Since the new year, Sandy’s has seen the cost-of-living crisis bite, with sales of fish down and sausages up. The important thing is that customers are still coming and that keeps Andrew positive.
“This year coming is going to have its own unique problems and we are going to see a lot of shops shut, but I don’t want to survive this year, I want to flourish.
“We may have to adapt our menu. If we have to take cod off, so be it. We can survive without cod, we can sell hake or something else. And if there’s no fish, I’ll sell sausages. We can adapt. If I have to turn into a vegan fish and chip shop for a year, I don’t mind doing that either!”