Having been named one of the UK’s 50 Best Fish & Chip Takeaways, Murray Morrison is eager to push his busy shop, The Garioch Fish Bar in Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, even further
One man’s loss is another man’s gain, so the saying goes, and that is certainly true for Murray Morrison. First delivering fresh fish to The Garioch Fish Bar 25 years ago, the Scotsman decided to swap selling fish for frying it when he bought the chippy in 1997.
“The Ashvale moved into Inverurie and they had just won Fish & Chip Shop of the Year in 1993. The owner panicked and sold. I thought if you turn out a good product then you’ll still be busy enough,” says an unperturbed Murray.
And he was right, The Garioch has got busier year-on-year with its extensive menu of fresh Scottish haddock, locally sourced pies and puddings, jacket potatoes and salads. It’s also cemented itself into the local community with gestures that include providing over 600 free kids meals to parents struggling during lockdown and standing hundreds of locals a free fish supper when storm Eunice left them without power for five days.
As with many chippies, Covid has increased the shop’s turnover with the introduction of click and collect and delivery. But with the world returning to normal and customers coming back into the shop, Murray is now faced with the problem of sustaining that increase while avoiding a queue building in the shop.
“Deliveries are about a seventh of our business and then click and collect is about 50%. The shop has never been as busy as it is right now but the problem is somebody just turning up and saying can I get five fish suppers, they can’t see that there may be another 30 orders ahead of them what with deliveries and click and collect.”
During Covid, Murray invested in a pager system and people waited for their food in their cars, but it wasn’t cut out for the volume of sales The Garioch was doing so Murray is considering an alternative solution.
“I’m looking at a new ordering system that I can link through my till and that works via a screen in the window. It’s somewhat similar to what Argos has so you get a number and when the order is complete we hit the till to say it’s ready and it will display in the window.”
With rising inflation and difficulties getting the large haddocks his customers are used to, Murray has had to implement a number of changes to the menu. He’s introduced a smaller size haddock at a lower price as an alternative for those feeling the pinch but he’s also increased prices by 10%. While his haddock and chips are still around £8.50, he’s keeping a close eye on the shops around him, with some already just shy of the £10 mark.
“I’ve absorbed the price for the best part of the year but coupled with packaging, the gas, electric, wages and every ingredient going up I’ve had to put prices up or I would have been standing there like a busy fool,” he says. “I do think we’re close to reaching a threshold where customers just won’t pay any more though.”
An incident happened three years ago which had a major impact on the business: Murray fell on a golf course, breaking three ribs. Unable to run the shop, he brought in his then 19-year-old son Glen into the business and taught him as much as he could from the sidelines.
“It was the most painful experience of my life, but it was a blessing in disguise,” reflects Murray. “He’s still with me now and he’s been brilliant. He started changing little things where he just wanted everything perfect every time and it’s really pushed the business on. Where he’s 22, he’s of that era where he understands social media, apps, ordering online. He’s continually posting videos on social media and we’ve gone from zero to 3,000 followers. He’s pushing, pushing, pushing all the time.”
Another aspect that’s moved the business forward is five successive years of entering the Fry Awards and coming close but not quite making the Top 50 Fish & Chip Takeaways. Using past reports to improve each year, the chippy scored an impressive 95% last year, but it still wasn’t quite high enough so Murray enlisted the help of two industry veterans to see if he could glean any additional advice.
As a result, Murray tweaked the length of time he cooks the fish and the period he leaves it to drain, and he’s also embraced blanching and finishing chips rather than cooking straight through.
“What a difference those two things have made,” says Murray. “The fish went from going slightly soggy to just being really crispy and the chips are perfect, fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside.”
A place on the list
It didn’t go unnoticed by this year’s Fry Awards’ mystery diner who scored the shop 98%, securing The Garioch a place on the list.
“It was fantastic to win and it has just pushed us on again,” says Murray. “As soon as I got the e-mail through to say we had won, we put it on social media and it went crazy. Then it was in the press and was pinging up all over the place. It got to the point on the Friday and Saturday after the announcement that we could hardly cope. We had so many people at the door, the phone was ringing, the web was going, Just Eat was going, people were ordering to collect. It jumped that extra percentage that it meant we were probably understaffed! Since then, we’ve been significantly up.”
With the award finally in the bag, Murray is keen to push further. He’s looking to embrace staff training and gain the NFFF Quality Award, he’s hoping to take on an apprentice to train up as a frier and he’s looking at expanding the menu.
“Now we twice fry the chips we’re looking at adding value to them and doing loaded fries and seasoned fries, it’s what the younger folk are after. We fry in beef dripping so we’re also looking at having another fryer for vegetable oil so that we can cater for vegetarians.
“It’s all about how we can slightly vary the menu to open ourselves up to new markets.”