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​Episode 45: Mulling things over with John Molnar

​Episode 45: Mulling things over with John Molnar

Posted by Emily on 29th Feb 2020

Spurred on by his dad telling him he would never be a better chef than him, it’s probably fair to say John Molnar can lay that ghost to rest.

Not only has he held various top cheffing positions at leading hotels and restaurants, he’s owned and sold five successful gastropubs and he’s now at the helm of The Cod’s Scallops, four fish and chip shops across Nottingham and Leicester, with his Wollaton branch having just won Best Fish & Chip Shop in the UK.

John’s vision for The Cod’s Scallops was clear from the beginning - to serve world-class fish and chips while showcasing the abundance of fresh fish in our waters here. Yet despite all his cheffing experience, John had to take a step back when Wollaton first opened in 2011, explaining: “I thought, I want to do all this stuff and we opened and we just couldn’t cope. I was having whole baked bass and realising it was 40 minutes and the customers don’t want to wait 40 minutes. I wanted to do salt-crusted bream, even for a takeaway, and I just thought well, actually, do I need to do salt-crusted bream? I’m doing it for me.

“We almost started again because I’d gone in to it with my chef’s head on and nearly fucked it up!” he adds.

The business has evolved over the years into John’s initial vision with up to 20 different species of fish available, battered versus baked sales now a 60/40% split and species such as hake, bass, scallops, mussels and oysters all closing the gap on cod and haddock.

As much as John loves his product, he’s also a businessman and everything on the menu is there to maximise spend while offering a sense of value for money.

He says: “I want you to come in and say: “Wow, you do three scallops for a fiver takeaway in garlic and herb butter, well I’ll have some scallops.” I see it now, they ring their Mrs and say: “Do you want some scallops to start and a few king prawns and they’ve got cockles and whelks and mussels like you have at the seaside with black pepper and vinegar, do you want some of them?” and that’s what I wanted to do. I want you to go away and feel like you've had brilliant fish and chips but you’ve also had some whelks like you used to have at Cromer when you went three weeks ago, or you had king prawns like you had when you went to Sardinia.”

As with all shops, The Cod’s Scallops is feeling the effects of rising costs and will implement a 10% price increase in April, putting takeaway cod and chips at £6.20. But it’s not the only way John will handle rising prices; the menu, the choice of products and the focus on quality help protect the business to some degree.

“It’s about having mackerel that I can have on at £6.50 and make my margins on that,” he explains. “It’s about making sure we upsell peas and gravy, making sure we upsell our homemade mayonnaise, tartare sauce and chilli mayo.

“If I can get your spend from £7 to £12, £12-17, it’s not necessarily gross profits, it’s a cash margin.”

John would love to see fish and chips hit the £10 mark in line with other quality takeaways. “It should be like taxis in Italy where they charge everyone the same,” he jokes but with a serious undertone.

“Every chip shop, if you’re doing 8-10oz cod with a 12oz portion of chips and you’re serving it in a box and you’re cooking it to order and you’re using sustainable ingredients, then you should be charging £10.”

John talks more about what species of fish work well in batter and which suit baking, what he would do if a venture capitalist came along with a wad of money, and the employee perks he offers to retain staff in our FREE podcast