While many passers-by hardly gave the disused toilet block on Priory Road in Ulverston, Cumbria, a second glance, Tony Postlethwaite saw its potential immediately.
With the town on one side, a large residential area with only limited amenities on the other, and the toilet block sitting on the main road linking the two, Tony knew it was a prime location for a fish and chip takeaway. He bought the grounds, extended the back and sides of the building, put in outside seating and created an eight space car park.
With the area crying out for a fish and chip shop, even before Tony opened the doors in November 2018, Priory Plaice had 1,500 followers on Facebook.
“The opening day I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Tony. “It was dark and it was raining so we couldn’t see the queues from inside the shop but the customers just kept coming in. They must have been queued right down the street.”
With a fairly traditional menu, Tony has increasingly catered for the on-trend townies by adding vegetarian options and a couple of vegan choices and now he’s looking at adding a gluten free offering.
“A mate of mine used to say to me ‘innovate or die’, and that’s something I’ve taken with me,” Tony adds.
As well as the menu, prices have also evolved over the 18 months since Tony set up the takeaway. “We have had to put up our prices a couple of times since we opened,” he says.
“Initially, we went off the local area – there’s a chip shop in town that has been there for 40 years and we wanted to be competitive so we set our prices in line with theirs. We quickly found ours were too low. Not only were potato and fish prices very high by the time we opened, but we had chosen quality products too – we don’t buy anything cheap, we buy the best we can – so we realised quite quickly we would have to put our prices up.”
It’s not the ideal situation to be in, just months into opening and Tony was worried how it would go down with customers. “To be fair, it’s not affected trade at all,” he remarks. “We’ve actually got busier and we’ve gone on to achieve the NFFF Quality Award, we were awarded Best Chippy by our local newspaper, and we got in Fry Magazine’s Top 50 takeaways. Our customers appreciate we’re all about quality and are prepared to pay that bit more.”
One of the suppliers Tony has worked closely with is Ceres. Tony adds: “Stelios got in touch and came to see us before we even opened and he was a massive help when we were trailing products. He came up for the day, brought some Ceres products with him and did some test frying with us. I liked the Natural Batter Mix straight away, it was easy to use and so consistent – there’s not been many times when we’ve had to change the mix ratio. The finish is great too. We’ve had a lot of reports recently about the batter being lovely and crisp, so that gives us the confidence to keep using it.
“We also use Ceres curry sauce, gravy mix and pea seasoning. The curry sauce we sell a lot of, our customers love it. I think we must have tested about 20 chip shop curries in the beginning. You know in your mind what a chip shop curry sauce should taste like and when we tried the Ceres one, straight away we knew it was the one. It tasted just like a chip shop curry sauce should but had that something extra.
“The pea seasoning is great too. We prepare and cook our peas every night and morning and with the pea seasoning it’s quick, consistent and we get the same tasting peas every day.”
Feeling like much of the hard graft is now behind him, Tony adds: “It’s been hard work to be fair, but I’m really enjoying the fish and chip businesses. When you have a good day, it’s a really good day and the rewards and the buzz you get from it are brilliant. It’s like anything in life, you’ve got to put in the hard work to get the rewards.”