Running a fish and chip business is not easy. As we all know, it takes hard work, commitment and time. Now throw in the fact you’re 21 with no experience or references and you’ve got to find a bank that will lend and suppliers that will give you credit.
Courtney Thomson didn’t let that stop her, however. She bought Redcloak Fish Bar in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, in July last year, having worked at the shop for just six months prior.
Learning the ropes from the previous owners and throwing herself into the Drywite Young Fish Frier of the Year competition – making the Top 10 – the youngster from Montrose has made giant strides.
She’s invested in staff training, forged close links with the community and increased the shop’s delivery orders three-fold since signing up with Hungrrr and introducing an online ordering app.
“Our customer care is second to none and we go out of our way to help them. I have quite a big budget yearly for donations, raffles and that kind of thing. Our other USP is home deliveries. That really sets us apart as the busier shops around us just can’t do that, they don’t have the capacity.”
Located in a residential area away from the seafront of this coastal town and with a school opposite, Redcloak attracts a wide-ranging customer base and the menu reflects this with pies, puddings, pizzas and burgers.
Courtney comments: “Being a residential area does alter your client base and customers expect a wider menu. Our top seller is still fish, but when you’ve got families coming in, lorry drivers passing, school children I do feel we need to cover all the options.”
With a fair number of products to batter, Courtney initially found it difficult to get the perfect product, something she overcame with the help of Ceres.
“I was already using Ceres Natural Batter Mix but was having problems where the batter wasn’t sticking to certain products,” she explains. “Stelios said he would come up and see me. It’s quite a way for him – he’s in the Midlands – but he came up, asked questions, saw how we worked and then showed us how he would do things.
Taking Stelio’s advice has transformed the way Redcloak cooks, with Courtney adding: “Understanding how to use the batter correctly has changed the way we fry in the shop, the food we are putting out now is so much better. I’m so pleased Stelios came up and shared his knowledge.
“People have often asked why we don’t make our own batter, but I like the consistency of Ceres and it means I can ask the young staff to go and make me some batter and it will always be quality and to a good standard.”
Faced with her fair share of challenges since taking over at Redcloak, Courtney says the biggest was being 21 and having a business. However, there has been plenty of people to offer advice, with Courtney adding: “Stelios has been an amazing support. Having him there, someone who knows the industry so well, to run ideas past has been great. There are a lot of folk you can do that to though. I know I can message Lauren Kellaway anytime and Andrew Crook is another one, he’s always ready to help.”
With four more shots at Drywite Young Fish Frier of the Year, Courtney is keen to bring home the title to Scotland where one day she would like to open a second shop, adding: “I would like to have another shop, maybe in a different location though. I quite fancy a touristy shop, maybe one by the sea. It would be amazing to compare the two.”