In just six years, The Fish Works on Largs promenade in North Ayrshire has gone from small fry to big fry, gaining nationwide recognition
If you happened to find yourself in the 45,000-strong crowd at Anfield stadium for last month’s Liverpool v Everton derby – or were one of the millions watching it on TV – you will have noticed a different name appear on the pitch-side advertising boards alongside the likes of Standard Charter, Nike and Coca-Cola.
In the 89th minute, The Fish Works took over all the advertising in the grounds, having won a Small Business of the Match Award in conjunction with Liverpool FC and Vista Print to recognise the contribution small businesses make to their communities.
“To look around the grounds and see our name right there was just incredible,” says Tiffany Irvin, who opened the takeaway overlooking the Firth of Clyde in Largs, North Ayrshire, just six years ago with her husband Ross.
Attending the match together, Tiffany said: “You would just never think it would be possible to be on the advertising boards in a Premier League football game because the costs must be insane. It was just amazing. Ross is a big Liverpool fan, he coaches the youth team in our town and he sponsors lots of things in the community.”
It was a real pinch-me moment for the pair and it was followed just a few weeks later by another major accolade when The Fish Works placed third in Fish and Chip Takeaway of the Year at The National Fish & Chip Awards.
Tiffany described being back at the shop the weekend after the awards as being “metaphorically punched in the face!”
“It was a really nice weekend in Scotland and so we would have been busier than normal anyway, but with the win, it was just crazy,” explains Tiffany. “We sold all the fish for the Sunday on the Saturday, so we had to phone our fish supplier and ask them to do an emergency delivery of whatever they had available.
“Normally, we get a busy lunch and then at about 2 o’clock we get a lull, maybe until about 4 o’clock, where we can catch up, stock up and prep and we just didn’t get it. I kept saying to the team, ‘we’ll just get this out and we can regroup,’ and it just never happened!”
It’s quite something for a pair who opened The Fish Works on a bit of a whim after driving out to one of their favourite fish and chip shops along the coast.
“They were meant to be open and they were closed,” says Tiffany. “We were fuming because you know what it’s like when you’re really looking forward to something. My husband said, ‘why are we driving all the way along the coast for fish and chips when we live in a coastal town? There’s nobody doing really, really good fish and chips, we should open a fish and shop’. I said, ‘yes, why not?’, even though we knew nothing about chip shops – I was a teacher and Ross had an ice cream shop in the town!”
Baptism of fire
In their heads, Tiffany and Ross envisaged a small fish and chip shop where they would take turns to fry and have one or two staff to help out. But it never quite turned out that way.
“The day we opened was a heatwave,” says Tiffany. “We had a total baptism of fire because it didn’t rain on our shop for five weeks. We just got properly flung in at the deep end.”
Their “small” shop now employs up to 25 in the summer and plays a significant role in the local community, arranging beach cleans, hosting primary schools and attending high schools to talk about environmental sustainability and entrepreneurship. “I didn’t want to open up a shop and not give back,” adds Tiffany.
Tiffany is currently part of a focus group working with Public Health Scotland and Food Standards Scotland to develop a new framework to help takeaways provide healthier food. Ideas on the table include providing a portion of fruit or vegetables with every meal and doing away with soft drinks in kids’ meals.
“The idea is fantastic and it sounds great on paper,” says Tiffany, “but what we are trying to get across is that ticking all the boxes is hard. The government don’t want us to use single-use plastics, but how do you store a fruit salad for a child’s meal? And people look at fish and chips as a treat, so what if a customer doesn’t want a salad? Is it right to force the public to take a side salad that they are going to put in the bin, which generates food waste?
“It’s looking at how we can do these things sustainably and in a way that won’t force businesses to go under because of increased overheads. It’s really good to speak on behalf of the industry so that, in three years from now, we don’t get something from the Scottish government that says you have to do this but that isn’t workable.”
Tiffany and Ross do all this while also facing the same pressures other shops do, including rising costs, an issue they decided to involve the whole team in.
“We had a team meeting when we reopened after Christmas to explain about the additional overheads and how much pressure they are putting on all businesses,” says Tiffany.
“We kept it casual, we got breakfast delivered in and said, ‘right guys, this is where we are at, we want to make it work, we want to be able to give you loads of hours but, in order for it to work, we can’t have silly mistakes and wastage. We need to streamline things so make sure you are cascading the oils, that the potatoes are not being over-rumbled and that the chip scoops are being used properly.’
“The team really respected that and it means if Ross and I aren’t in, the staff know what they need to do because they understand the costs of things like the oil and the potatoes now.”
With the team working efficiently and the awards bringing in more customers, Tiffany is hoping to ride the wave.
“We are already busy and Easter isn’t far off now, which is when our season kicks in. If we can keep going as we are and get through to a time when gas and electricity prices come down, then things should look really positive.”