Late last year, Murray Watson finally gave the green light on a refurbishment project he and his parents had been waiting to do ever since they bought Carron Fish Bar in Stonehaven, Aberdeen, 10 years ago.
Like many shops, Carron Fish Bar had seen an increase in delivery and click and collect orders over Covid and Murray knew the business needed to adapt to suit this new way of working and to secure future growth.
“We felt comfortable enough in where we were not only with the quality of our product and service but financially too,” he says. “With the loans and government grants, we thought this was the time to commit and really push forward. It’s going be a tough year or two for the industry so we thought let’s get ahead of the times and get what we want now.”
The refurbishment has given Carron Fish Bar not only extra capacity to serve more customers but also the ability to extend the menu and tap into different markets. It now offers gluten free fish and chips, fishcakes and sausages, as well as weekend specials that change every Saturday and Sunday to include things like sticky sesame chicken, salt and pepper chips, and katsu curry.
“Adding different things keeps people interested and it helps in these times to get your name out there,” says Murray. “Although we consider ourselves a traditional fish and chip shop, you still need to inspire new customers to come in, whether that be from your town locally or from further afield.”
Three of the weekend specials have included cheese and chive croquettes, smoked haddock and cheddar fishcakes, and salmon fishcakes. Made using Ceres Fishcake Mix, Murray says they make great alternatives plus they are speedy to do, saving time peeling, boiling and mashing potatoes.
“I can cut all that process out into just a couple of minutes work,” he says. “Ceres Fishcake Mix speeds up service for me and it’s a really versatile product that we find very easy for all our staff to use.”
With margins getting tighter each week, it’s these weekend specials that are helping boost turnover. Murray adds: “Percentage-wise, our weekend specials are probably the most profitable items on our menu because I know people are coming exclusively for them. They’re not going somewhere else where they can get fish and chips – and there are plenty of shops serving high quality fish and chips – so you know if they’re coming only for your weekend special, they are willing to pay that price for it.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s the manager, the owner, or the counter staff making these, with the Ceres products we can teach anyone how to make them and have the same consistency and quality every single time.”
Aware of the profit opportunity these sides carry, Murray encourages his staff to end every transaction with the simple question “would you like any sides or drinks?”.
“These are the extra little things that are going to help massively in the next year to come,” he says. “Especially when it comes to online ordering because we find that people add sides without even really thinking about it because they’re not paying with cash but card. They don’t value their money in their bank like they do cash in their hand, so we find that the average spend typically goes up.”
Murray also uses Ceres Natural Gold Batter Mix, which he switched over to six months ago after feeling the allergens in the batter the shop was using were too excessive. “I love Ceres Natural Gold Batter Mix and much prefer it,” he says. “It’s a great, high quality consistent batter and gives me a nice crispy batter every single time.”
Working through Covid brought its challenges but in an ever-changing situation, Murray was grateful to have the help and support of Ceres, adding: “When Covid came about, Stelios was there day-in, day-out with valid information that helped us gain an understanding of the situation and how we could grow from it.
“To this day that support has continued. Stelios is always there, no matter what time of day it is and if I’ve got a question that he doesn’t know the answer to, he finds someone that does and asks them to get in touch with me. He’s got a real field of knowledge and experts that we can tap into and he has no fear of sharing that with us.
“When you’re trying to grow your business and run the business at the same time, sometimes you need someone to talk to, to give you ideas or just reassure you that you are pushing in the right direction.”
With the takeaway about to approach the start of its busy season, Murray says he feels comfortable and ready to take on the months ahead, now the business has been given a new lease of life.
“It’s going to be tough and I think we have to potentially be prepared that some people might come less frequently, but we’re ready to push our consistency and push the quality of our food.”