Darren Wild was aware of the need to dispose of batter scraps correctly, yet his takeaway, Catch 32 in Bakewell, Derbyshire, still fell foul to a fire
Opening a fish and chip shop six months before a global pandemic is challenging enough for someone new to the industry, but suffering a fire just a few months later has got to test the patience of most people.
That is exactly what happened to Darren Wild, owner of Catch 32. It was the Friday of the August bank holiday weekend, one of the busiest times of the year for the small tourist town of Bakewell. Darren had finished a busy shift frying, he had put the scraps in a bag in a dustbin outside and locked up. At 3.15am, Derbyshire Fire and Rescue rang his doorbell, saying he needed to come down to the shop.
“I remember the five-minute walk to the shop not knowing what I was going to find,” recalls Darren. “I was just thinking, don’t let it be the building and don’t let it be the whole block. When I saw the building was still stood up, I was slightly relieved.”
The batter scraps had combusted in the small yard outside, causing a fire that spread rapidly to the prep room. Fortunately, the fire didn’t travel any further, although extensive smoke damage, as well as significant water damage caused by the fire brigade, meant the ground floor of the three-storey building needed a complete refurbishment.
“Before we’d opened I’d been told by people in the industry whatever you do at the end of the night, put your scraps outside because they can combust. I found it quite hard to believe but I did it anyway and I’m so glad I did because otherwise the whole building would have gone up.”
Darren anticipated the repair work to be completed in time for the shop to be back open by October, a year after he first opened the takeaway. But a delay by the council to inspect the roof means it’s now been six months, leaving a gaping hole in Darren’s finances as well as the slate roof.
“We’ve got listed building consent so we need to replace like-for-like, but we don’t have permission to put the roof back on because we’re still waiting for the council to authorise it. I find it so bizarre that we’ve got to get permission to put like-for-like back on.
“It’s frustrating because we were at a point with the shop during Covid where it was doing really well. We’d introduced click and collect, orders were in 10-minute slots, the customers liked it and it was nice and controlled. Some days we were doing £500 an hour. We want to get back to that.”
Fortunately, Darren had the good sense to invest in a comprehensive insurance policy through Aviva which includes business interruption. However, so far he’s only had a couple of interim payments totalling £15,000.
“I just assumed we would get a payment every month or every couple of months but apparently it’s agreed and paid out at the end,” Darren explains. “We had money in the bank that we’d put aside to convert the upstairs into a restaurant, so we’ve been using that. But had we not had that, it would have been a nightmare.”
With the shop remaining closed since August 2020, Darren estimates his claim for business interruption insurance to be well into £100,000. While there’s no immediate financial hit as such, Darren was building up a successful business that was generating positive reviews on Trip Advisor. His fear now is that he’ll have to start over again.
“My worry hasn’t been a financial one, I always knew we would reopen, but we’ve been closed for so long now that I’m going to have to rebuild the business from scratch and that includes getting my customers back. But we’ve done it once and we’ll do it again.”
The insurance company has tried to assist Catch 32 in opening earlier, but not all its suggestions have been welcome. For example, it was proposed that Darren could open without a prep room or that he could move the potato prep upstairs along with making mushy peas, beans and curry upstairs. It was even suggested he open without the side dishes.
“I explained to them that I couldn’t open without a prep room and that, anyhow, I’d only been open a year and if I didn’t need a prep room I wouldn’t have built one in the first place. And I couldn’t have the staff going up and down stairs with hot sauces, it just wasn’t possible.”
When the roof on the building is finally retiled and the shop is put back to how it was originally intended, Darren will have one final job to do and that’s reinstalling the 10-month-old frying range.
“The range was fine as the fire didn’t spread that far but where the fire brigade soaked everything, it was starting to rust,” Darren explains. “We got it back to the supplier – Henry Nuttall – who are storing it for us. They have been really good.”
It’s been a long six months for Darren and an experience he does not wish to repeat – or want other shops to go through. And while there wasn’t anything more he could have done to avoid the fire, he is keen to impress on others the need to dispose correctly of their batter scraps.
“Make sure your scraps are tucked away outside and put a cup of water over them to dampen them down,” he stresses. “Although it’s not massively common for them to combust, it’s not totally uncommon either. And make sure you have a good insurance policy and that you have all the relevant up-to-date certificates.
“I don’t know what would have happened had we not had a good insurance policy. As I said before, my worry hasn’t been a financial one, it has always been having to rebuild from scratch and get my customers back, which we’ll do.
“Fortunately we’ve built the business on quality, not quantity.”