Business continues to boom for popular Derbyshire chippy despite struggles of Covid-19
Business is booming for a popular fish and chip shop in Derbyshire which has remained open for much of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Toll Bar Fish and Chips took the decision to temporarily close when the first lockdown hit last March, despite official Government guidance stating that businesses with takeaway and delivery services should remain ‘open and operational’.
Five weeks later, however, and the popular chippy on The Bank in Stoney Middleton resumed its operation – and business has continued to boom ever since.
Now, owner Pete Grafton has told of the struggles of Covid-19 and the “managed chaos” that ensued.
He said: “Although we were exempt initially, it just didn’t feel right to open. We put on our Facebook to say that we’d stay open just to get a feel for things and we got no likes – normally we get lots of likes.
"About an hour late we took the post down. We put another to say that we were going to close and got lots of likes so thought that, although legally we could stay open, the best thing to do was close.
"We didn’t go with Government advice. One thing we did do about three weeks in was feed the people in the village for free. We let them know that we were doing five-minute appointments to get rid of stock as it would have gone to waste and handed out free fish and chips.
"That was really well received then, after a few more weeks, we started getting messaging saying others were opening and I think people understood it a little better then.”
During the closure, Toll Bar Fish and Chips underwent a overhaul in which a hatch was installed at the back entrance of the Grade-II listed building to allow for customers to order in the front and collect out back.
Various safety measures, such as perspex screens and a sanitising station, were also introduced for enhanced protection for both staff and customers once open again.
Pete added: “People were just happy for us to be back open. Pubs and cafes were shut and people were coming in and crying they were so happy; the amount of people that came in and said it was their first time out the house, just to have something a little bit special to eat, they couldn’t thank us enough.
"It was unbelievable to watch and be part of.”
After reopening, Pete said there was a period where it was “crazy busy” which was just as much of a worry for the team.
"We were the only ones open for miles and miles around in the Peak District,” Pete said. “It was chaotic, queues were all the way down to the bus stop and it really wasn’t fair to local people.
"That was a difficult time. We did have a guy on the door to make sure people were behaving and following the rules so we did get it under control but thankfully, not long after that, pubs were able to open up again.
"It was really worrying at that time – we didn’t want it that busy but it was mad busy. We’d gone from one extreme to the other.”
The business stayed at “summer busy” levels throughout the second lockdown and into winter according to Pete – a time when things normally quieten down as tourists leave the area.
“Although it was busy we coped really well and got such amazing Google reviews from people saying we’d got the best systems in place that they’d seen anywhere,” Pete said.
"Stock has been an absolute nightmare for us though as we normally have one delivery a week but it was that busy we were having to take two, but our normal company won’t deliver twice a week to us.
"It’s been a real challenge. We’ve had to buy more freezers and I’ve asked people to help us out storing things; we’ve been pulling on family friends, we had to have another shed built at home to store things in so we could cope with the demand.
"I feel for people who have struggled but for us we’ve had problems although they’ve been at the other end of the scale."
He added: “Luckily, we’ve had no Covid cases at the shop so we haven't had to close. We’re serving 1,000 people a week and we’ve not had an outbreak so I think that’s testament to how well we've managed it.
"It’s only just in the last two or three weeks started getting back down to normal levels. It’s been two years of chaos – but very well managed chaos.
"We were getting lots of new customers when other businesses were closed and they’ve stayed with us. It’s been a real positive.
"Although we’re still doing summer levels in the winter. The trend is the same – in that it dips during winter – but the numbers are much higher.
"It’s been 100 per cent flat out so I think the staff are now looking forward to things easing. It’s been good but very demanding and we have got a phenomenal team who have been with us throughout and have stayed with us.
"We’ve not lost staff like a lot of people have but I think everybody is ready for a little bit of a breather.
"We’re just really thankful for the amazing support and the lovely comments on how well we’ve done everything.”