Opened just over a year ago in the Devon seaside town of Paignton, Paignton Pier Chippy has had its ups and downs, including a devastating fire. They’ve not held the outlet back, however, and already it has a multitude of awards to its name
First opened in 1879, Paignton Pier has been attracting visitors for over a century with its array of amusements and entertainment, yet there was always one thing missing - a good old fish and chip shop.
That was until February last year when industry newcomer Lorraine Arnold carried out a £200,000 refurbishment of an old cafe at the entrance to the pier, making way for a modern 100 seater fish and chip restaurant and takeaway.
“I was running the children’s amusements at the back of the pier for a couple of years and I couldn’t believe that there was no chippy along the seafront,” she remarks. “It didn’t make any sense to me. There are plenty of cafes and kiosks, but no chippies.”
Wanting to return to the days of serving quality fish and chips by the seaside, Lorraine very quickly started asking questions in the industry. “The first thing I did was go to chippy school, as I call it, with KFE where I met Nigel Hodgson, Gordon Hillan and Garry Rosser. That was a fantastic starting point. We then had Craig Maw from Kingfisher in Plymouth come and spend time with us, and I went up to Hanbury’s in Babbacombe and met with David Hanbury just before we opened, who was really lovely and helpful.
“I literally Googled everything there was to know about fish and chips and asked lots and lots of questions. I knew from the beginning that I had to be the best. I’m not interested in turning a quick profit, I want to be here for the long haul. I thought whoever is the best, that’s who I need to teach me.”
Putting in a brand new wet room and staff room downstairs, Lorraine completely revamped and refurbished the restaurant and takeaway upstairs too. She decided to chip and peel all her own potatoes, buy in pre-cut MSC certified cod and haddock, and implement a simple menu that also includes chippy staples such as pies, scampi, fishcakes, sausages, hot dogs and burgers.
With Easter just a few weeks later, the chippy experienced its busiest ever day. It was the ideal start, until Lorraine had a knock at the door at 3am two months later. The shop was on fire.
“It was the batter bits,” she explains. “During the final clean, they had been emptied into the bin but the bin wasn’t taken out. Where there was blue paper in it from the clean down, it was smoldering away. It eventually caught fire and took very quickly. Everything was gutted and we had to go back to the bare walls again, rewire the place and put in new plumbing, fridges and freezers. The only thing that was still standing was the range. It was devastating and it still is now.”
With shopfitters and tradesmen working through the night, Paignton Pier Chippy was back up and running within just five days and in time for BMAD, a local festival for bikers during which it beat its Easter record. It gave Lorraine the reassurance she needed to keep going. “It was relentless,” she Lorraine. “After BMAD, it dawned on me quickly that as long as we stick to producing good quality food and making sure everything is consistent, people will come back. We are now building up a regular trade as well as the holidaymakers, which is really important to us as we are open all through the winter.”
Since the fire, Lorraine has implemented a host of changes, including introducing gluten free fish and chips every day after purchasing a second hand, two pan range from Krispies in nearby Exmouth. There’s also gluten free sausages and pies, and sales are increasing by the day. Other additions include an extra EPOS till on the takeaway window, the introduction of alcoholic drinks as well as gaining the Q Award from the NFFF and MSC accreditation.
Spurred on by the improvements she had made, Lorraine entered the business into Best Newcomer at the 2019 National Fish & Chip Awards, where it came runner up, as well as Fry Magazine’s 50 Best Takeaways. Although it didn’t make the shortlist for the latter, the report from the competition’s judges provided areas for improvement. Lorraine comments: “We didn’t make the Top 50, which was really disappointing, but it kept us on our toes and it was good for the staff who were really interested all the way through. Plus, the report was fantastic, so much so that we’ve now got a mystery shopper coming in every month. I don’t even know when they are coming in!”
With Easter this year breaking all records once again, Lorraine is enthused and ready to take the shop on a level. She’s appointed a manager to share the workload and she’s also planning to introduce homemade items such as mushy peas and fishcakes. “From the summer, I’m thinking of putting on a mini cod goujon as well as a mixed fish platter too,” she explains. “I think it would be great to offer customers a taster of our plaice and haddock as well as have a couple of cod goujons too.”
It’s certainly been a rollercoaster ride for Lorraine and the team at Paignton Pier Chippy in the short time the outlet has been open. With the lows hopefully behind them, Lorraine is grateful for all the advice, pointers and recommendations she’s been given, adding: “Without realising what it entails, I thought let’s have a chippy but there’s certainly a lot more to it than I ever thought. It’s a fantastic industry though, full of support, and I’m amazed daily by the people involved.”