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Quick learners

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Fish and Chips

First-time shop owners Sam and Lee Humphreys are looking forward to adding to their takeaway business, Fish Kitchen 1854 in Maesycwmmer, south Wales, when they open a restaurant in the spring 

Fish Kitchen 1854 started out life just three and a half years ago when singer Sam Humphreys and headteacher husband Lee decided to turn an old rundown Chinese takeaway into a modern fish and chip shop for the family to run together. 

While the name of the takeaway pays homage to the year in which the nearby Maesycwmmer viaduct was built, the menu is equally traditional with a focus on quality MSC certified fish, sausages, homemade fishcakes, locally made pies and regular specials that include fresh line-caught haddock and fresh hake. 

Seasonally customers get a welcome surprise – last Valentine’s Day the chippy sold lobster to takeaway – and every five to six weeks it runs an exclusively gluten free day. There’s also a lunchtime deal comprising mini cod, chips and a sauce for £4.50, a saving of almost £2 on its regular cod and chips. 

“If a customer just wants sausage and chips or gravy and chips, we do that too,” says Sam. “We focus on quality but we try to cater for everybody and all different budgets as well.” 

It’s hard for Sam to recall what business was like before Covid. Staff have spent the last two years serving customers from the shop’s bi-fold windows – which by complete chance Lee had installed at the refurbishment stage – while donning thick fleeces to keep warm in winter! 

“We’ve operated longer with Covid than we have without it. I’m not sure I would know how to go back to before!” adds Sam.

Click and collect

Like many shops, Fish Kitchen 1854 completely changed its business model when Covid hit, introducing a click and collect service, which has proved so popular that 60% of the takeaway’s sales remain pre-orders. It also operates deliveries on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays when the takeaway has the capacity.

“The regulars have become so used to click and collect now, they really like it,” says Sam. “It benefits us too because our parking isn’t the greatest so what we’d get before was people driving past, seeing that we’re really busy and driving straight on. Now, they make their order online and they know that they can just jump out of the car, grab their order and go. I think they’re going to carry on doing it, to be honest, people have adapted to a sort of new normal.”

Having had no previous experience of fish and chips, Sam and Lee learnt their trade very quickly. Lee and his father, who is also involved in the business, attended a three-day NFFF training course in Leeds while a second course was delivered in the shop for the whole team. Added to this, they received help from their range manufacturer and batter supplier, as well as various people in the trade including father and son team John and Lee Penaluna from Penaluna’s in Aberdare.

“We just couldn’t get over how friendly an industry it was. Everyone we met wanted to help us,” says Sam. 

Fortunate enough to recruit Mary, a supervisor with 40 years’ fish and chips experience, it didn’t take the pair long to realise the value of good staff and they have since made a commitment to invest in theirs. One member has already been put through a management course, which Fish Kitchen 1854 were able to seek funding for through local organisation Chware Teg. 

“We don’t just want workers,” says Sam. “We want to try and further their careers with us as well. I think that’s one of the reasons why our staff retention level has been really good since opening.”

The takeaway has got off to a great start, it’s already operating at full capacity and has exceeded all its initial projections. So much so that the couple has sought out another business opportunity and are just months away from opening a second takeaway just four miles away in Bargoed, but this one comes with a 50-seater restaurant.

“Maesycwmmer is going really well but it’s quite small so there’s not really any room for expansion. Plus we had a lot of people saying they really wish they could eat fish and chips fresh, which gave us the idea of finding somewhere people can sit down and eat. Because the new place has got quite a large car park there’s more scope for deliveries too. 

“I know obviously Covid has brought challenges for restaurants but, predominantly, the restaurant side is an added bonus. If we had to close, we could still run the operation without it.”

When the restaurant opens in the Spring, Sam is looking forward to the added scope a sit-down restaurant brings to the menu, adding: “We’d like to have more seafood on the menu, like mussels and lobster. We’d love to do these things in the takeaway but then we think, how are people going to get them back home?”

Start-up of the Year

Their success in navigating Covid and creating a solid business with future growth plans won Fish Kitchen 1854 Start-up of the Year at Caerphilly Business Awards last year. It involved an application stage, a presentation and a thorough overview of the business’s accounts and turnover.  

“It was fantastic because we were up against some tough competition and it gave the staff and the family recognition of their efforts,” says Sam. “I think you really need that in work, and in a business as well, to keep on having that something to strive for otherwise it’s a bit like what’s the point? Yes, it’s about making money, obviously, but it is also about trying to be the best that you can and always looking to improve.”

With her customers now savvy to pre-ordering online for click and collect, Sam is keen to explore ways in which technology can add to the business further and hints at a self serve kiosk in future. 

“A self-serve kiosk would be great because fish and chips is so diverse in terms of the generations that enjoy it. 

“We get the older customers who come in, order, like to pay cash and have a little chat with the person behind the counter, but then we get the younger ones who don’t talk to you. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s just not the way they are. They like to make their orders online using an app and they don’t really want any contact with you at all. They just want to place their order, get it and go. 

“There are so many different ages aren’t there that I think eventually we’ll have to adapt to suit everybody.”

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