John and Karen Pearce have brought consistency back to a Teignmouth chippy as well as a sense of community spirit
With 42 years’ experience running fish and chip shops, John and Karen Pearce are certainly no strangers to the industry. However, when they sold their previous business, Alf’s in Weymouth where they had been operating for over 11 years, to buy a small 16 seater restaurant and takeaway in the seaside town of Teignmouth on Devon’s south coast, strangers is exactly what they were.
But two years on and they’ve built up a thriving business that caters to what the locals want and need, and they’ve put themselves at the heart of the community by getting to know and care for their customers.
“When we bought the shop it was shut down,” explains John. “It had about eight or nine different people in here running it and the customers just stopped using it. We’ve turned it around though. We revamped it completely, we installed a new two and a half pan Henry Nuttall range and we put in the hours. In season we’re open seven days a week and Karen and I get in at 7am and we leave here anything up to 10pm. For me, it’s not to do with money, that’s immaterial, I enjoy the job I do and the industry I am in.
“When we came here we weren’t locals, we didn’t know anybody, so we’ve had to bed ourselves in. It took a good 18 months for the locals to start using us again as the shop had such a bad name.
“We simply make sure we keep the same high standards all the time. We change the oil every four days, we completely empty the pans, clean them out, scrub the bottom and start again. The potatoes, the batter and the fish always stay the same, we never compromise on quality and, because of that, people know us and trust us and we’re part of the community now.”
As well as giving the shop a new lease of life, John’s also overhauled the menu and introduced customers to more sustainable species of fish such as hake and, more recently, dabs which are landed locally at Brixham.
While the shop hasn’t got the capacity to offer gluten free, it serves poached fish which caters for customers with a gluten intolerance. There’s also a choice of eight vegetarian meals and John guarantees that there’s not a single product on the premises that contains nuts.
“People are very pleased with the lengths we go to to cater for different dietary requirements and people definitely use us because of that,” John adds.
Where else The Jolly Good Fish Cafe differs to some other shops in the area, says John, is that it listens to its customers and gives them what they want, for example, all the fish it serves is skinless. John adds: “A lot of chip shops round here in Devon serve skin on, but we’ve found people really like skinless. So we’ve adopted that method.”
It’s not just the menu that has seen Jolly Good Fish Cafe entrench itself into the local community, it’s also the time and effort John and Karen put in behind the scenes. For example, when the Beast from the East struck and people were held up in doors, they were out taking free bread and milk round to local pensioners.
In June this year, the pair is planning a free day trip for 60 pensioners to Weston super-Mare with a fish supper to take home on their return.
John comments:“The idea of the trip is not just to take the elderly out for the day but for them to socialise too. A lot of them live on their own in flats, so they meet on the coach and then start going to bingo and getting out.”
With John keen to provide the day-trippers with refreshments on arrival, he would welcome anyone in the trade based in Weston-super-Mare who maybe able to accommodate 60 cups of tea to get in touch.
While taking pensioners to the seaside might happen once every 12 months, there’s plenty more going on at The Jolly Good Fish Cafe to keep the locals busy all the year round. For example, every six weeks John runs a Monday club, which sees 18 pensioners come to the restaurant and enjoy fish and chips, a sweet and tea or coffee for £4.99.
“We don’t make any money from it, but you can’t buy a smile,” says John, who also puts on a round of bingo and a raffle.
Then there’s a pensioner’s lunch on a Friday, which includes a small portion of fresh cod, chips and peas for £5 to eat in or £4 to takeaway. “That brings a lot of people in, we can do 40 in a lunchtime in the restaurant and then in the takeaway we literally sell hundreds of them. We have the same old dears come in and choose the same table and the same seat week in week out.”
It’s not surprising that The Jolly Good Fish Cafe was recently voted Teignmouth’s favourite restaurant - which is quite something considering there are almost 70 in the town. And when it comes to TripAdvisor, it’s already racked up a 5 star rating.
While it’s not everyone’s idea of running a business, for John and Karen they simply love their jobs, their customers and the new found community spirit they have created.