In this column last year, Harbourside’s Andy Hillier talked about the positive effects of entering the National Fish and Chip Awards. As a finalist once again in this year’s Drywite Young Fish Frier of the Year Award, he’s back again, realising just how true his words were
At the awards in January, Harbourside was named the UK’s 3rd best Independent Fish and Chip Takeaway and I came third in the Drywite Young Fish Frier of the Year. Since then the business has entered another dimension and we never have a “dead day” anymore.
Because of the awards, new customers were encouraged to come and try our food, and one common question that we kept getting asked was “Do you do gluten free fish and chips?” Whilst we do have choices on the menu that may seem suitable for that customer, we take allergen intolerances very seriously and tended to say no because we cannot guarantee it. This became more of a suitable reply after this year’s awards as we were busier than ever, and we just could not guarantee the safety of it. Better to be safe than sorry.
On a cold February morning, after just acquiring the keys to a fish and chip takeaway three doors along, the team at Harbourside gathered for a meeting to discuss its future. We already knew we wanted to change it up, refit it and bring a fresh, more modern look to it. The one thing we did not know is what to do to make it different. We had all sorts of suggestions, from doing chips and dips, to a burger and grill outlet, to a seafood and salad establishment. But then, one of my leading friers popped his head through the kitchen door and hit the nail right on the head, saying: “We should do gluten free fish and chips”. BOOM. Straight away, everything started falling in place, Sarah was on the phone to KFE for a new range, I was on the phone to the reps to get the products I might be interested in, and Charly started ripping out the old and preparing for the new. Not only were we going to do gluten free, but we decided to make the entire menu gluten free, seven days a week. To my knowledge, I do not know of any fish and chip establishment that has an embargo on gluten on absolutely every single ingredient within their establishment every single day. We’re positive we may be one of the first, if not the first.
I am pleased to say on Saturday 12th May, Gluten Free Harbourside opened its doors and had a hugely successful weekend.
One product we did struggle to find ahead of the opening was gluten free scampi. We got pointed in the direction of the FreeFrom range from Tesco. However, this product was too expensive and we weren’t very happy with the quality for the amount we would have to charge, so we decided to not sell it. I am, however, proud to have found a gluten free Katsu Curry Fishcake, which I personally believe is phenomenal.
Without a doubt, the biggest problem we have had is recruiting. Unfortunately, there is a very big misunderstanding that working in a chip shop is easy. I am thankful to say that my very loyal staff stepped up to the plate. However, I am always willing to talk if anyone is interested…ha ha!
So, we’ve started the next chapter in the Harbourside story with Gluten Free Harbourside, and we’re excited to see how well it will do. We do have other plans - to take our recently purchased mascot, Finley the Fish, on a tour across the nation visiting establishments and passing on our advice. However, in our industry, I have discovered that advice and tips will always work both ways. I won’t delve into more than that for now as, hopefully, I can come back and write about it in full for you later.
And finally, I would like to thank Helen Edmonds at Fry Magazine for still considering me young enough to write the Young Blood column! I’m grateful to be given the opportunity to write for this amazing trade magazine.