Kirby’s of Meanwood, award winning fish & chips are loved by families in Meanwood and beyond. New owner Andy Crombleholme has been frying fish since he was 15 they are a match made in heaven. I caught up with him to see how taking over this iconic takeaway at such a challenging time has been.
Here is an abridged version of our conversation from 26th January, I will share some top clips on my socials.
Deby: So, what is your connection to Leeds, the greatest city in the world?
Andy: I was born in York, and moved to Leeds when I was 2. I’ve lived in Leeds pretty much my whole life really. I started in the trade when I was 15 in a shop in Otley and I’ve worked in Leeds/West Yorkshire ever since.
Deby: I asked That Leeds Mag group on Facebook, and said to them – I’m interviewing somebody from a fish and chip shop, most people wanted to know what was the biggest obstacle to overcome during the pandemic, and how did you tackle it?
Andy: I took over on the 1st of March, on the 23rd of March we had to close. At that point, with government guidelines we could only operate if customers could pre-order. If you didn’t have a pre-order system, you stayed closed. Kirby’s had no online presence whatsoever. We had no website, no social media, we had nothing! I’ve been here 3 weeks, and I’ve now got to close! I needed to get social media up and running quickly. I got in the mind frame of, we have to do this now and contacted my design team, we got everything done. I got a website with click and collect built and an online presence on social media as well. To be honest, it’s done us a big favour in a way because I wanted to do this over time, in six months or so, but we ended up doing it straight away. We had to. 4 weeks after closing we were back open and offering a click and collect system. I wouldn’t be without click and collect now, it was lifesaving for us. A massive percentage of our turnover now is click and collect. It’s great, and the customer feedback has been brilliant. I’m really glad we did it. It’s safer for people because it keeps the queues down. It’s the fastest way as well because you can order and 15 minutes later its ready to collect. You can also order 3 or 4 days in advance. So if you want a meal on Friday to collect at 6pm you could have your order in already. It’s been brilliant.
Deby: You are now offering loyalty cards?
Andy: Yes, to reward our customers we are offering a free portion of fish and chips for every 8 stamps collected.
Deby: I was looking on your website and can see how important sustainability is to you.
Andy: All our fish is from the North Atlantic, from the waters around Iceland. We check with our suppliers before we order to make sure it’s MSC certified. It costs us a little bit more. But for us, knowing that, and having that sustainability for the years to come, we know we’ve got supply forever. It’s great for customers to know that as well. We only buy frozen – it’s frozen within hours of being caught, frozen at sea on the trawler. Whereas if it was fresh, it can be sat on the trawler for however long it takes to get to port. Because our fish is MSC certified, we have traceability and know exactly where it was caught and when it was caught. We know exactly where it’s from. And even potatoes, we do the same with that. We know which farm it was bought from and what variety it is.
Deby: Tell me a bit about the effort you are making with the packaging as well.
Andy: When I took over a lot of the packaging was polystyrene, plastic bags, and paper wrapped up in paper, which I know is a traditional way, but for the quality of the product it needed to be better. Our boxes are biodegradable, made from sugar cane extract. It’s great for the environment and it’s also great for our product because it soaks up condensation as well. When you get food wrapped in plastic it gets sweaty.
Deby: It keeps it crispier?
Andy: Exactly, nothing worse than getting home and losing half the batter off your fish. Our paper bags help it breathe as well – reducing plastic again. Even the forks we supply are either wooden forks that are from sustainable forests or are biodegradable.
Our main product is from the ocean and if we can’t make an effort to reduce plastics, then why would anyone else? We are proud to make that effort!