How the best fish stops pubs from having their chips

Penelope serves a happy haddock
Penelope serves a happy haddock

When pubs are battling for survival, good fish and chips, or lovely ham, egg and chips might be the recipe for success.

That’s the view of Penelope Sexton, head chef at the community-run and popular Heneage Arms in Hainton.

The pub was faced with closure in 2012 but is now run by a team of volunteers and says it is going from strength to strength.

Now, it feels confident enough to enter the 2015 National Fish and Chip Awards, hoping to batter rivals across the country.

The Best Independent Food Service Category will test it on its fish and chips, the transparency of its food supply chain, marketing and promotions, customer feedback and sales.

Penelope, who has worked in hospitality in Berkshire and Newcastle for more than ten years, says when the pub was taken over by a committee, it started running ‘fish and chip nights’ on a Friday.

Initially, some 20-30 ‘covers’ would be sold, but now sales have taken off, to a record 162 covers, with 90-100 being sold last Friday.

“When you look at this growth, it’s phenomenal, but you are having new customers come in as well, who will also buy drinks,” she said.

Thus, good fish and chips have been used to build up the reputation of the pub, which has seen it expand into more restaurant-style cooking too.

The Heneage Arms also offers private bookings, for events like farmers’ dinners, plus it also stages events like the recent beer festival.

Penelope says the National Fish and Chip Awards is “a really difficult competition”, but having seen how a simple meal like fish and chips can transform the pub, she feels it is time to give it a crack.

“We do not know, until we try,” she said.