By Kristy Dorsey

Before the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak, Calum Richardson’s chippie on Stonehaven’s beachfront promenade was selling something in the vicinity of 300,000 fish suppers every year. Up until even just a week ago, The Bay Fish and Chips was continuing to turn a good trade – too good, in fact.

After attempting various initiatives – including click and collect, delivery and taped-off areas to encourage social distancing – Mr Richardson decided last Monday night to shut down completely.

“It was very difficult because we can normally have as many as 50 people in the queue, and I was trying to get that down to six people,” he said.

“Some people were doing what they should but other weren’t, and I was getting fed up having to shout at them. I was also getting more and more concerned not just about my customers, but also my staff.”

Having earlier this year completed a £250,000 refurbishment to minimise the business’s impact on the environment, the decision to close wasn’t taken lightly.

All 20 of The Bay’s employees are continuing to receive 80% of their wages through the Government-backed furlough scheme. Mr Richardson said had it not been for the investment in the refurbishment – as well as not knowing how long the shop will remain closed – he would be paying their full wages.

“If (the coronavirus outbreak) had happened before we had started on the refit, then I wouldn’t have spent all of that money, which would now be in the bank instead,” he said.

The refurbishment included the installation of motion-activated lighting, advanced electric pans, high-efficiency fridges, a zero emissions fryer and shallower purpose-built sinks to cut back on wasted water.

“Sustainability goes a lot further than the fish,” he explains. “It is about everything you put on the plate, and everything that goes into getting it on the plate.”

He reckons the refit could boost annual turnover, which last year came in at £1.5 million, by as much as 10% when normal trading resumes. That is expected to come from a combination of cost savings, efficiency gains and the extra business generated from the addition of a gluten-free only fryer.

A lover of both cooking and the sea, Mr Richardson joined the Navy at the age of 16 after leaving school, and spent a total of 10 years in the service.

He describes it as a period where he was able to “adapt and learn in a different way”. Although his grades were sufficient, school was a struggle due to his dyslexia.

“At the end with the Navy I was on small ships,” he recalls. “Everyone had to help out with everything, and I wound up in the galley, and I really enjoyed it.”

He came out in 1997 and three years later set up in business with a silent partner to run The Carron, another fish and chip shop in Stonehaven. In 2002 he was named Young Fish Fryer of the Year in the annual UK-wide industry competition sponsored by Drywite.

The business partnership ended on difficult terms, and The Carron was sold. Mr Richardson then decided to take the plunge again – this time on his own – and opened The Bay in 2006.

Despite the difficulties, he credits The Carron partnership with putting him on a path that led to the success of his current operation.

“If I look back on it, it was a good thing,” he says. “I learned from some mistakes that would be very costly to me today.

“With that experience behind me, as well as the award, I knew the banks and what have you would take me seriously.”

In addition to shop sales, The Bay also has a mobile catering business and a supply agreement with catering group Compass. Together these generate £500,000 of annual revenues.

The van needed to set up “Bay on the Road” was purchased five years ago. Compass began purchasing batter from The Bay a year after that, and last year began buying fish cakes served throughout schools, hospitals and the armed forces.

The shop renovation is just the latest eco-friendly initiative by The Bay. It was one of the earliest clients of Vegware, the Edinburgh-based supplier of compostable packaging and cutlery, and the business recycles all its food waste.

For these reasons, The Bay has laid claim as the world’s most sustainable fish and chip business in the world, generating 115g of CO2 per meal versus 1100g in similar operations.

Looking beyond the immediate health crisis, Mr Richardson believes the overhaul of the shop will benefit The Bay when normal trading begins to resume. Along with the fresh and modern facilities, the refurbishment also included the installation of a sliding window through which customers can be served without coming indoors.

“It may be that to start with that is the only way we would be allowed to serve customers,” he muses. “But that would get us back into business, so that’s a positive.”