By Scott Wright

BLUE Lagoon, the long-established fish and chip shop chain, has defied the gloom on the high street by investing heavily to expand its flagship Glasgow outlet.

The family business, which has been trading for more than 40 years, has spent £500,000 to double the seating capacity of its restaurant on Argyle Street.

The investment saw the firm expand the outlet into a former newsagent next door as it looked to capitalise on its location next to the entrance of Central Station.

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And director Simone Varese, who runs the business with his father Angelo and brothers Alessandro and Gianluca, said further expansion is on the cards, revealing that the firm has ambitions to open a first outlet in Edinburgh.

It currently has a portfolio of 12 directly-run and franchised outlets.

Referring to the Argyle Street expansion, which doubled the number of seats to 80 and introduced a Blue Lagoon theme to the interior décor, Mr Varese said: “It is probably one of the biggest gambles we have taken to date, because we had a unit there that was working in its own right.

“But the reason we did it was because you couldn’t see there was a seating area, [given] the way the shop was [laid out].

“We took the gamble of taking the unit next door, almost doubling the rent but doubling the capacity in the hope that if people in the street could see the seats, it would entice more people in. It’s very early days, but it’s been a good start.”

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The move to expand in Argyle Street, where Blue Lagoon has had a shop for around 40 years, came after the business opened an outlet in Glasgow’s St Enoch Centre, its first in a shopping centre food court, in June.

In a hectic year for the business, the family had previously invested nearly £1 million to acquire and fit-out an outlet in Perth, where there is also an 80-seat restaurant, in April.

The latest additions joined branches in towns such as Ayr, Largs and Stirling, alongside Gallowgate, Gordon Street, West Nile Street, and Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow . There is also a Blue Lagoon at the Glasgow Fort shopping destination. And Mr Varese declared that Edinburgh is next on the radar.

He said: “With high streets being the way they are just now, the opportunities are coming to us more regularly than they used to. But what I would say is that, in comparison to a few years ago, we put in maybe five or 10 times the due diligence we maybe used to when the high streets were [thriving]. Luckily, there is a wee bit more scope for negotiating with landlords, which helps.

“We will also spend a lot of time ourselves on the street, at the unit, scoping out daytime and night-time trade [footfall].”

He added: “We’d like to open one in Edinburgh, but we have not found the right spot.”

The most recent accounts for group show that it turned over around £3.5m, which helped it book a pre-tax profit “in excess” of £1m, including franchise fees. It employs nearly 200 staff.

Asked why the firm has had the confidence to expand during such fragile economic times,

Mr Varese, whose grandfather Ersilio established the chain in 1975, highlighted the enduring appeal of fish and chips, which remain an affordable treat during worrying economic times.

He noted: “We’re quite fortunate that fish and chips is a popular cuisine. We are lucky there is still a demand for it and we are maybe lucky that it is a product that isn’t overly-expensive.

“We are able to keep the price of a fish supper reasonably keen, and it is something that is still quite affordable to the public when everybody is watching the pennies.”

However, Mr Varese said the business, which made headlines last week with the launch of its vegan sausage supper, is at the mercy of varying fish and potato prices. He noted: “It fluctuates.

“Last season was very expensive, this season is a wee bit better.

“They both fluctuate to a certain degree [but] we can only charge so much for a fish supper no matter what happens.

“We try and keep it at a manageable level.”