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A dream come true

The Finest Catch, a stunning 68 seater restaurant and takeaway on a new build housing estate in Bicester, Oxfordshire, is quite a contrast to the small takeaway owner Danny Koumi has been running for the past eight years, but it’s an experience he’s relishing

You’ve spent the last eight years building up a busy takeaway, creating a team that works well together and devising a menu you’re proud of, resulting in a business that’s generating a sound profit and that you can step away from when you need to. So what makes someone put that all on the line and start again, 45 miles away, from scratch with the added pressure of a restaurant too?

The dream of course. And that’s exactly what Danny Koumi was chasing with his new venture, The Finest Catch in Bicester, Oxfordshire. It’s a far cry from The Ridgeway, the takeaway he opened in St Albans, Hertfordshire, in 2011, which at the time left him with just £80 in his pocket but a deep-rooted determination to succeed. And it’s the same grit and determination that has fuelled Danny’s quest to open the modern 68 cover restaurant and takeaway in a new build parade of shops on a growing housing estate.

Danny comments: “Ever since I was a little kid I’ve wanted a restaurant. I had various dreams, some came close to happening, some changed along the way. One was being a footballer. I was so close to that happening but that dream got squashed and that gave me the bit between my teeth to get even closer to this one.”

At one point the dream did very nearly come true when Danny looked at extending The Ridegway. But a £50,000 bill to relocate a main sewerage drain quickly put pay to that. Unsure if it would ever become a reality, Danny got a call early last year from his business partner Stelios Stylianos to say he had found the ideal site.

“I was just wowed by the estate it’s on,” explains Danny. “I loved it instantly - even though it was just a steel erection - and I could see its potential. I would drive back on a weekly basis to see the progress. A well-known chain went after it too but somehow we managed to beat them to it so I knew then it was a good site.”

It’s clearly a much bigger operation than Danny is used to, but then again he’s no stranger to restaurant kitchens having been to catering college and winning a ten-week stint in a Marco Pierre White kitchen - which he admits brought him to tears on occasions - albeit that was some 17 years ago!

“There’s way more that goes into opening a restaurant than a takeaway and, looking back now, I overlooked some of those things,” Danny comments. “Even as friers and owners we’ve had to adopt new systems - the technology we’ve invested in for example. I’ve got a seven pan L-shaped Kiremko range now, the most I’ve ever worked on is a three pan. One of the pans is a meter wide and the power that comes out of it is phenomenal. We’ve worked out we should be able to produce 500 portions an hour from it. I’d love the opportunity to try that someday!”

Always having worked old-school with orders called out, a new system here too means they are sent straight through to the kitchen and displayed on a screen. Danny adds: “It took some getting used to because reading it all on a screen is very different from hearing it, but we’ve got it all ironed out now.”

With a restaurant kitchen to run and a new customer base to build-up, Danny has created a menu that clearly shows off his cheffing side but which stays true to fish and chips.

As well as cod, haddock and plaice, there are plenty of under-utilised species too such as whitebait and coley. It’s a menu that Danny was unable able to execute at his takeaway, explaining: “I wanted to encourage people to eat something they wouldn’t normally order. It was something I couldn’t do at Ridgeway because we set the stall out very early that we were a cod, haddock and plaice kind of shop. Here it’s a blank canvass so we’ve designed a sharing platter with whitebait and coley - species people wouldn’t think about ordering - alongside cod and haddock. We also do a lot of homemade stuff, for example, fresh calamari from day boats, our own fishcakes and we breadcrumb all our own whitebait, too. We’ve gone a bit more rustic here, it’s food you can with your fingers and not worry about it.”

Takeaway regular haddock and chips comes in at £7.75 while to eat in it's £12.50, which includes bottomless chips and sauce

With the doors opened on the double-fronted site just a few weeks ago, Danny can’t believe how quickly word has spread. “We had a queue that was like a Good Friday - we just didn’t anticipate it being that busy that quickly," he remarks. "We had a brand new team and I thought we could teach them at a nice slow pace. For the first half an hour I thought we had got it right and then wallop, that was it. It was one big stampede through the shop. We ended up chasing our backsides and that happened for a full week!”

With a few more weeks now under their belts and some additional staff, the team has grown in confidence, is quicker and more comfortable, which means everything is now falling into place.

So with the dream now a reality, is Danny pleased with his decision to start again? “Yes, until I start paying the loans back!” he jokes. “In all seriousness, we’ve had a great response and we’re certainly the talk of the town, well the talk of the estate we’re on anyway!”

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