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Click & collect and delivery, without a doubt, were an absolute godsend during Covid and there are not many shops that could have got through the pandemic without adding these services. But for all their plus points, some operators, like Danny Koumi, owner of The Ridgeway Fish Bar in St Albans, Hertfordshire, miss the old way of working. 

“Click and collect and delivery certainly streamlined the business, I can only be grateful and thankful for that,” says Danny, “but I’m of an old school mentality where I prefer talking to people. I’ve built the shop up on having a relationship with people, I know their first name, their dogs, their cousins, whatever it might be, and Covid has taken a lot of that away. Walking into a shop and saying “my name’s John, I ordered for six o’clock,” there’s no interaction.”

The takeaway, which Danny opened 11 years ago following a move from Birmingham, certainly hasn’t suffered as a result of Covid. While footfall fell, ordering from the sofa became the new norm and what the business took over six days, it now takes over four.

Part of this growth is down to some clever marketing and added value meal deals that tapped into new post-Covid eating habits. It’s Great Catch, two medium cod and chips and two sides, is a deal aimed at couples working from home while Tasty Tuesday includes the kids in the mix with a meal for four. There’s also a Winter Warmer and a Cosy Night In, both featuring pies. 

“We knew that people weren’t coming to us, they were ordering online,”says Danny. “So we wanted our offering to sound more attractive to them. Because customers were sitting at home on their sofa, the words “cosy”, “winter”. “night in” seemed to fit in with the way they were ordering and we felt it resonated with them more.”

To entice footfall to the shop post-Covid, Danny has invested in a complete refurbishment, putting in a new shopfront, frying range and kitchen equipment. And to enhance the menu and further embrace emerging food trends, The Ridgeway is trialling a vegan menu just on Thursday evenings that includes tofish as well as meat free alternatives to sausages, burgers and nuggets. 

Danny comments: “I wanted to make Ridgeway a hub where the whole family could come in one go, as opposed to going to KFC, which is four doors down, for their plant burger or to McDonald’s, which is the other side of town to us. It’s a slow burner but we are seeing family orders that have regular products and the vegan products with it and we’re also getting just single vegan products as an individual order coming in.”

When Danny first relocated from Birmingham all those years ago, he bought many of his Brummy ways with him – not only an ability to chat away, but the batter, gravy, curry sauce he had previously been using. He quickly learnt what worked in the Midlands didn’t further south and so he had to adapt. 

“The more training I did and the more I put myself out there within the trade, the more I realised that there were better products available. One of the first I tried was Ceres Gravy Mix and the transition was so easy because it was more of a consistent product – how you made it and how it kept in the bain marie – all those things that made life a lot easier.”

Moving over to Ceres Natural Batter Mix and then, when he launched a gluten free menu, Ceres Gluten Free Batter Mix, the progress the shop made in its first 12 months surpassed all Danny’s expectations. “I wasn’t expecting it. We doubled the turnover of the shop in about four months.

“But it wasn’t just Ceres products that helped, having Stelios there was a massive help too. He’s very relatable because he understands the industry, he’s worked in his family shop, so you can speak to him about certain things and he gets what you’re saying.”

With Danny having a chef background, he’s eager to make as many of the menu items himself, such as tartare sauce, mushy peas, garlic mayonnaise and cod fishcakes

“It says to the customer that you’ve taken time to make something extra special as opposed to just giving them something bought it. Yes, I could buy tartare sauce in the little of sachets and just give them out, but that’s not what I want, because we’re embedded within the community. We want customers to ask for Ridgeway’s tartare sauce.”

One of the items Danny loves to get stuck into making is its homemade fishcakes, using Ceres Fishcake Mix and offcuts of cod. As far as Danny’s concerned, they are a no-brainer, helping with profits and connecting with customers. 

“Anyone that’s not using the Fishcake Mix is seriously missing a trick, especially with the fish prices of today’s market,” he comments. “If you’re throwing bits of tails away, forget it, go and make a fishcake and make an extra couple of quid because it helps the business and customers appreciate the fact you made something for them as opposed to just cook it and sell it. And if you don’t sell all your fishcakes, freeze them. There isn’t an easier product to make, it’s ridiculous.”

When Danny isn’t making fishcakes, cutting tofu or frying fish, he takes time out to stand and chat to his customers, educating them on why fish and chips isn’t a cheap meal any more. He adds: “I think we’ve all got to go through an educational process to try and pass on certain bits of information to our customers that are willing to listen because I don’t think enough has been done. I still hear words like “cheap” associated with fish and chips and that just isn’t the case. 

“If truth be told, and we were to do the correct price increases, fish and chips would be way more than £10.

“But also the days of one portion of chips being able to feed two or three people are long gone, yet there are still people who have that mentality. More needs to be done to get that across to the customer.”

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