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Rachel Tweedale, Lauren Walker, Sisters, Sisters Fish and Chips, north hykeham

Using the experience and expertise from 16 years running a family-business, Rachel Tweedale has teamed up with her younger sister Lauren to open their own takeaway

Just two months ago, sisters Rachel Tweedale and Lauren Walker were working for The Elite, a well-established chain of three fish and chip shops in Lincoln, Sleaford and Ruskington in Lincolnshire. While Lauren had joined the family business full time six years ago, for Rachel it’s all she’s ever known, clocking up 16 years with the business. Now the pair are behind a frying range in a shop of their own, having spread their wings and opened Sisters in North Hykeham, Lincoln.

It wasn’t an easy decision for Rachel to leave something she’d been doing – and loved doing – for so long. But as director at The Elite, 31-year old Rachel was responsible for issues such as recruitment, dealing with suppliers, organising shifts, running the marketing and banking, yet wasn’t tasked with the ability to make key decisions, something that would always rest with her dad.

“Me and my dad disagreed on how certain things should be done,” explains Rachel. “That’s not to say he was wrong or I was right, it was just a difference of opinion and, ultimately, The Elite was his company. At the same time, I was the face of the company, carrying out actions I didn’t always agree with and that was difficult for me because I was working with the team and could see things from a personal point of view as well as a business point of view.

“I realised the only way I would be happy was if it was me making the decisions.”

With The Elite’s restaurants all closed for several weeks during lockdown, Rachel found herself with time off. Always being the first one to put herself forward should a job need doing, this was something she wasn’t used to.

Rachel Tweedale, Lauren Walker, Sisters, Sisters Fish and Chips, north hykeham

“There was no me time, no separation between my work and personal life. If someone rang me on my day off, I would answer it. If there was someone of sick, I would go in. If someone at the last minute couldn’t work, I would feel guilty asking someone else to work, so I would go in.

“During lockdown, I just said I can’t do this anymore, it’s killing me. When you get to a point that something you absolutely love becomes something that you potentially end up resenting, a decision needs to be made. 

“By chance, my sister phoned and it lead to thoughts of us going alone. I never had the confidence in myself to think I could do it on my own before, but a change of situation means I now have a wonderful, fantastic boyfriend who has been so supportive, saying I could do it, and a sister saying she was more than happy to do this, we’ll do it together. One thing very quickly lead to another.”

Finding a shop wasn’t difficult, it was securing finance that proved a sticking point. In a world battling coronavirus, lending to a new food business has been virtually ruled out by most banks on the assumption they are too high risk. But Rachel’s brother-in-law Danny, a financial advisor, proved there are other ways to find finance if you’re persistent enough when he came across the Business Enterprise Fund (BEF), a government-funded scheme set up to provide loans to SME businesses. 

“It was a combination of luck in Danny’s persistence at finding a lender and finding someone that listened and bought into what we were trying to achieve,” says Rachel. “I think had it been me trying to find the finance, I would have given up and we probably wouldn’t be where we are now.”

Opening was the next priority and the pair moved swiftly. Before the sale was even complete, they had shadowed the owner, got to grips with the frying range and the workings of the shop, set up accounts with suppliers, created staff handbooks, written a food safety policy and implemented a health and safety policy, and even sized up and ordered menu boards and new signage. All that was left to do when they were handed the keys was a deep clean and some advertising. This head start meant Sisters was up and running within just one week of receiving the keys.

“We were trying to get ahead because we put everything we had into buying a new business and we needed it to be making money straight away,” explains Rachel. 

And it’s certainly doing that. Even Rachel and Lauren are staggered at how busy the takeaway has been, so much so that they’ve taken on five staff members.

Rachel comments: “The money we took on our first weekend with just me frying with three pans, at The Elite we would take that with two friers on a five pan range and three more members of staff serving. I ached, I really did! But we’ve adapted and figured out how we can make things as efficient as possible. For example, on a Friday I blanch chips at lunchtime and put them in gastro trays just so that we can keep up with demand in the evening.”

With Rachel and Lauren now making all the decisions, one of the first things they did was tackle the batter, choosing to use Ceres Yorkshire Batter Mix

Rachel Tweedale, Lauren Walker, Sisters, Sisters Fish and Chips, north hykeham

“I love it, I’ve always rated it, I think it’s a high quality, easy to use batter mix,” says Rachel. “At The Elite, we always made our batter but one of the problems that presented was that it was made differently at every shop, even though we put things in place to try and make it the same.

“Now it doesn’t matter if it’s me, Lauren or my other half making the batter, I just have to say “three litres of water, 2.5 scoops of Yorkshire Batter Mix” and it’s done, it’s perfect. It’s as it needs to be.”

Having witnessed their fair share of disasters in the kitchen, Rachel and Lauren have also chosen to use Ceres Pea Seasoning. Rachel comments: “I’ve seen peas that are black because there’s too much bicarb in, I’ve seen peas that are fluorescent green and thought would anyone want to eat those? The Ceres Pea Seasoning takes all that uncertainty away because it makes the peas the same every time.”

During the eight weeks that Sisters has been open, some significant changes have already been born. What was once a sausage-and-chips-heavy takeaway is day-by-day converting people over to fish and chips while, more importantly, Rachel feels she is striking a much better work/life balance, adding: “My life is still work orientated but it’s different because how much I work is dictated by me now. I can choose to work 60 hours in the shop a week or I can pay someone to work 20 of those hours to allow me to have some personal time. It’s refreshing to have that ability and makes the job itself more enjoyable. I’m excited to see how Sisters will grow! 

“More importantly, my relationship with my dad is much healthier. We have always been close but over the years work became the thing that often stopped us from being father/daughter. Having that back is worth its weight in gold.”

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