Located in a conservation area where the council rarely grants takeaway licences, The Village Fish Bar in Collingham, Newark, Nottinghamshire, is in a very enviable position. As well as being the only fish and chip shop in the village, it is the only takeaway option within a six to seven-mile radius.
Owner Perry Frangeskou has capitalised on this by offering a wide-ranging menu that encompasses all the popular takeaway foods including burgers, kebabs and southern fried chicken. However, it’s fish and chips that remain the biggest seller at this busy takeaway.
“I do sell a lot of fish, it’s why my customers come to me, but having the different kebabs, the burgers, the chicken means people will pop in for those things too,” he says. “It’s the difference between customers coming in once a week and maybe a few times.”
A listed building, Perry converted the disused house into a modern fish and chip shop ten years ago, ensuring he retained much of the village charm. Here, food is cooked fresh to order and served in branded boxes, customer service is a high priority and there’s the convenience of a pre-order option. It’s a busy shop with a high turnover of food which means it’s always fresh.
Despite the high standards, Perry has seen the trade get more and more difficult over the past 10 years. Things like the cost of card payments, the competition for environmentally friendly packaging and the constant rise in the price of ingredients have all made it harder to turn a profit.
Naturally, he’s put up his prices but, like a lot of operators, Perry is aware there is a ceiling that you can’t go beyond before customers question their spending decisions. While he’s held off cutting opening hours, remaining open six days a week Monday through to Saturday - he has reduced staff levels where he can.
“The only way I can see shops saving money is by reducing their overheads as much as they can, which means having to work more hours yourself. If you’ve got a busy shop where you can take the hit with the cost of everything a little bit, you can accept that you are not going to make X amount, instead, you might make a little bit less. But for smaller shops, it’s a lot more difficult.”
With Perry’s objective being to keep his shop as busy as possible, he’s introduced a range of specials, with deals on small fish, pies, fishcakes and burgers, as well as offers to get customers in on quieter days of the week.
“I’m mainly fish and chips, where I am I sell a lot of fish. But not so long ago, when the fish prices went through the roof, I pushed the kebab sales. I started doing a bit of a special offer such as buy one get one-half price or buy one get one free on Mondays and Tuesdays to get people in. And it worked, customers liked those offers.”
Keeping the footfall flowing is also down to the high quality ingredients Perry insists on purchasing, including Ceres Natural Batter Mix which is used to coat a range of battered products from fish and burgers to sausages and pineapple fritters.
“My brother used Ceres Natural Batter Mix first in his shop in Lincoln and I liked it,” explains Perry. “When I opened here, I ordered a few bits and bobs and I found what worked best for me was the Ceres Natural Batter Mix.
“I just love the way it fries. I love the way if you do want to cook it and leave it in the top box it won't go soggy like a lot of the other batters. It’s very fluffy, it’s very light, it’s easy to mix and it tastes brilliant. I noticed when I started using it that my battered product sales started to increase, whether it was burgers, sausages or fish. People were saying to me, ‘Oh, did you change your batter?’ and I was thinking oh no, they are complaining. But then they would say it’s really nice.”
Perry preps his batter using ice-cold water from the fridge and utilises a batter mixer to get the perfect texture. “I know there are guidelines to making batter but I've been in the game so long I just know what the texture of my batter should be just by looking at it. I do have a to-do list on the board for the staff for consistency though.”
To ensure his Nuttall Frying Range is working efficiently and his high food standards are maintained, every three to six months Perry carries out a deep clean of his frying range using Ceres Deep Fryer Cleaner.
“It just long life’s your oil which is really important, especially a few months ago when we didn’t know how much oil was going to go up. It certainly pays to use the Ceres Deep Fryer Cleaner and to look after the equipment and your oil a little bit better."
When Perry is running low on Ceres products he jumps online and orders via the Ceres Shop, saying it’s a “piece of cake”.
"It’s just so easy to order what you need, especially now there is the option for next-day delivery so it's dead easy and you get your order quickly. And generally, there are a few freebies in with my order too, like a bag of sweets. That’s a nice touch.”
Grateful for the support he’s had over the past 10 years from Ceres as a company, Perry adds: “If I’m not sure about something, I'll give Stelios a call or drop him a text and he’s always got a solution. Whenever he’s in the area, he’ll always stop for a coffee and see how things are. I respect that a lot.”