Byrnes in Walton, Liverpool, has been in the family for four generations and now,
after almost 90 years, it’s been joined by a sister shop seven miles away
It might be Fran Byrnes behind the counter at the takeaway in Stuart Road, Walton, but before him came a further three generations of friers - his father, his grandfather and the founder of the business back in 1932, his great grandfather. Between them, the four generations have built up a strong family business that has seen a host of trends and fads, peaks and troughs, recessions and good times.
Like many shops of that time, Byrnes started out serving fish and chips from the front room of a residential house, and Fran’s earliest memories are of him and his brother sitting in the living room watching cartoons as his nan and grandad ran backward and forwards with buckets of spuds and batter. “We were around it all the time,” says Fran. “But as soon as we were old enough we weren’t allowed to watch the cartoons anymore, we had to help!”
From helping out to now running the business, Fran has retained much of the essence of his grandfather’s shop, the dedication to first-class ingredients being one - fresh fish is delivered every day from Fleetwood fish market - an insistence on everything being cooked to order and first-rate customer service being others.
“We have a lot of loyal customers, people that used to come in back in my grandad’s day,” says Fran. “They are almost like mates, we’ve been seeing them that long now. They know about our family, we know about theirs, they go on holiday and bring in their photos to show us. We love speaking to them. It’s what my granddad did, and what we’ve done is just carry on from him really.”
One aspect that has changed dramatically, however, is the menu. Whereas Fran’s great grandfather served purely cod and haddock, now there’s an array of fish including hake, salmon and plaice and it’s not just battered and fried but poached, floured and grilled, and served with a choice of sides that include rice and salad.
“It’s a menu that’s evolved,” explains Fran. “It was almost a hidden menu because we would be having our dinner out the back and we would run through with it in our hands and the customers would say “what is that you’ve got there?”. We would tell them it’s not on the menu and they would ask us if we could do it for them next time. It just went from there.”
While cod is still the shop’s biggest seller, salmon - either poached or grilled - is proving increasingly popular. “It’s a healthier alternative and when the weather is really hot we sell a lot of it, especially with rice and salad,” adds Fran. “We’re actually seeing sales of non-battered fish increasing all the time. We offer fish that’s just dusted in flour and fried so it comes out a lot lighter than the battered version, and that goes well too.
“I’m not sure I know of any other shops around us that are doing rice and salads. It sets us apart and, again, it’s something we started doing for ourselves and customers have seen it and it’s caught on.”
For a small shop that’s quite understated, Byrnes does a very good trade with queues a regular scene on a Friday tea time. Come here on a Good Friday and you’ll be in for an hour’s wait at the very least. It’s certainly not bad for a shop that trades on a five day week - remaining shut on both Saturdays and Sundays - operating from 11.45am to 7pm.
“Everyone wants to be busier and I know we could be if we opened at the weekend but I just don’t know how we would do it,” explains Fran. “We work all hours as it is. We are very hands-on and I guess I’m scared to step away from the range and trust someone else with our business. We should do, I know we should because then we could have some time off, but we’ve done it all ourselves for so long now.”
Instead of opening at the weekend, the family decided to take on a second shop seven miles away in Muirhead Avenue East, West Derby, which Fran’s brother could head up. It’s been the family’s biggest learning curve to date and almost made opening at the weekends seem like the more attractive option! Fran comments: “We bought an old cafe that required complete renovation and it took almost two years to complete. It was very hard, we had loads of problems with the build and we were beginning to think it was the biggest mistake we’d made.”
With the shop - a modern take on the Stuart Road takeaway - finally completed and ready to open at the end of April this year, Fran ran into another problem, one that he’s not the only fish frier to make - the assumption that everything would run exactly as it did at the existing site. “Everything was in place at Stuart Road, we had our routine and it worked,” says Fran. “Although I took the routine to Muirhead Avenue, all the staff were new so when we opened up it was like a gang of strangers working together. I’ve been doing this job every day for about 10 years and I honestly didn’t think it would be that hard.”
Fran took the drastic decision to close his existing shop for one week and move all the staff over so that it was all hands on deck. “We were that busy, we didn’t know what hit us. We even ran out of fish one night. But we’ve been at it a few weeks now and everything is in hand, I’m glad to say. I know now we should have had a few weeks before opening when we all worked together.”
It wasn’t just the team that was new, Fran and his brother also had a brand new frying range to get used to, having installed a four pan Henry Nuttall counter range. Fran comments: “Dad and I went round loads of chippies in Sheffield and Lancaster asking them different questions but the main one was what’s the customer service like if we were to have a problem. Everyone we spoke to couldn’t speak highly enough of Henry Nuttall. Touch-wood we’ve had no problems but, if we did, I know Nuttalls would be there right away.”
With everything working like clockwork now, Fran is back focusing on his business and considering ways to expand the menu with burgers and desserts on his hit list.
“We do burgers but we’ve always fried them, which I find dries them out a bit too much. We’ve just got a grill in the new shop and the burgers are coming out a lot better, so I’m hoping to get a grill here too.
“Desserts are also proving more popular and I see more and more fast food places offering them. We already sell pots of ice cream, but a friend of mine has started a small cheesecake shop so if I can get a little fridge in here and offer some of those, I think they will fly out.”