“I don’t think anyone, whether they’ve been in the industry for five years or 50 years, has experienced anything like this,” says Martin Robinson, owner of Robinsons Fish & Chips in Billingham, Stockton-On-Tees, as he looks back at the past nine weeks.
Having reopened the takeaway after closing for six weeks due to coronavirus, Robinsons Fish & Chips has gone from operating six days a week to limited hours across just five, and the results are tempting Martin to rethink how he works.
“We might stay there, to be honest,” he remarks. “Since being back open it’s been really busy. Sometimes we’re doing more than a week’s trade in five days.
“I was confident trade would be there when we reopened, I was just surprised at the level it came back at. But then when you think about it realistically, we’ve still got many of the big boys – KFC, McDonald’s – closed, and all the restaurants are too, so I suppose in a way it makes sense we are going to be busy as the competition isn’t there.
“Time will tell when they all reopen. We’ve got to just keep doing our best to try and hang on to that trade when the competition is back open.”
The chippy, which was a butchers until Martin took over the building five years ago, serves a traditional fish and chips menu fried in beef dripping with its biggest seller being cod and chips.
Martin is navigating the current crisis by switching the business to predominantly phone orders. He comments: “We are taking walk-ins if they come in but only one person at a time and we are directing them towards phone ordering after that. It’s working well, we’re managing to keep the queues down and everyone happy.
“Orders have gone up and we’re not getting as many smaller orders – single portions of chips for example – we’re getting more family orders where people are working from home and treating the family. So the spend per head has increased. It’s still mainly fish and chips they are ordering, with our second-best seller being sausage and chips.”
While having an island range has helped maintain social distancing for his staff, and screens on the counter are teamed with marked out areas on the floor for reassuring customers, working with the shop’s main suppliers has also been crucial to the shop staying up and running.
Martin comments: “My suppliers have been really good. I’ve got great relationships with companies like Colbecks. They’ve had to change their operations, which means our delivery dates have moved so we’ve had to work together to make that fit. But as far as the supply chain goes, it’s been straight forward.”
And Martin puts that down to working with the right companies, adding: “You do your best to run a good business and you need your suppliers to be the same, so we always go with reputable companies. That’s how we ended up working with Ceres. I don’t think there’s a product Ceres sells that we don’t use.
“The Natural Batter Mix we use because it stays really crispy. Although we fry to order, some products do stand, sausages for example, and the batter withstands a lot better than others we’ve used in the past.
“The gravy and curry sauce are both great products too. The curry is a true chip shop curry sauce, it has much more flavour to it than any others, and the gravy, again, is just a really great gravy.
“It’s not just the products though, Stelios has helped me a lot. Although I’ve been in fish and chips all my life – I’m the fifth generation – this is the first fish and chip shop I’ve done on my own. It can get quite lonely, but Stel’s always been there with advice, it’s almost like having another team member.”