A century of sustainable fish and chips – Colman’s

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The Colman family have been serving up fish and chips in South Shields, Tyne and Wear, since 1905. Weathering the storms and the wars of the 20th century, and adapting to the challenges of modern times, they now serve award-winning, sustainable fare to more customers than ever. They know that the future of Britain’s favourite dish is in their hands, and as such are determined to be as proactive as possible in being green.

Locavore spoke to owner Richard about the changes in the industry over the last century, sustainable lobster, and the future of sustainable fish and chips.

Richard’s Great Grandfather and his son, Joseph, circa 1905

The Colmans family has been serving fish and chips since 1905. Can you give us some background and history?

We are now into our fourth generation of working in the business. Our first venture was a small hut in front of where our Seafood Temple is now, then from there we progressed to Ocean Road. We expanded that twice to make a more spacious takeaway and restaurant. Now Colman’s Seafood Temple has opened on the seafront – back to where it all started, you could say. 

How have you seen the industry evolve over the years?

Certainly over the past ten years, there has been a lot of investment into the fish and chip industry. Fish and chips is the nation’s favourite dish, and our industry is constantly striving to make sure we are always ahead of the high street competitors, to provide a high-quality, sustainable product, with equally as good personal service.

You’re very involved in the local fishing industry. Do your fortunes and theirs go hand-in-hand?

Absolutely. We try and buy local wherever possible, we love to support our local fishing industry. Not only is it fantastic for the local economy, but we believe that the fish they land are some of the best you can get!

Colman’s Central Cafe, which was destroyed during WW2

Why do you think that fish and chips, something so traditional, has maintained its popularity for so long? 

It’s our nation’s favourite. Unlike other food ‘trends’, fish and chips is here to stay. Everyone has a memory of fish and chips when growing up, and I think that this nostalgia around the dish is something unique we can provide others can’t… and not forgetting its the best meal in the world!

What is the secret to good fish and chips?

There are very few ingredients to fish and chips, therefore the most important thing is quality – the freshest MSC fish and top-quality potatoes, as well as cold batter and hot oil.

You’re committed to sustainability, with a clear environmental policy and membership of the Sustainable Restaurant Association. Has this been part of the business for long?

We always strive to better ourselves, especially when it comes to sustainability. We want fish and chips to be about for generations to come, which is why this is of paramount importance to us. We have a duty of care to make sure we make the right ethical and sustainable choices so they can be enjoyed for many generations to follow.

How have you seen things change in recent years?

One of our biggest changes to our industry in recent years is the introduction of Kiremko high-efficiency frying ranges. Not only are they saving energy, but the quality of the product from them is also a massive improvement. We are also now very conscious as an industry over single-use plastics, and are working together to minimise all impacts of these to our oceans. 

Has consumer knowledge and expectation around sustainability changed over the years?

Definitely. Especially over the past few years, customers are a lot more conscious of what they eat and where it was caught. We display the names of our boats, and even the sector of the sea where our fish was caught, to ensure our customers know everything they are eating is from sustainable and well-managed fishing grounds. 

How does sustainability affect other aspects of your business?

Everything we do we aim to be sustainable – all our packaging is biodegradable, in both of our restaurants we us solar PV panels to help produce our own energy, and we recycle all of our waste oil into biodiesel. 

What are your views on the future of sustainable fishing? Can we continue as we are? What changes need to be made? 

I think as an industry so far we have done very well, not only to preserve fishing stocks, but also to get the message to the public to eat more consciously. Although we still have a lot of work to do, we now have groups like the MSC, MCS, and the Sustainable Restaurant Association – they provide a great platform for all businesses who strive to be more sustainable and make a change.

In 2017 you opened Colman’s Seafood Temple. What do you do there?

Well, we just wanted to showcase our local fish and seafood. It’s a family restaurant serving sustainable and local coastal cuisine – with the addition of an oyster bar!

You have ‘buy one, set one free’ lobster on the menu. Can you tell us more?

Our ‘buy one, set one free’ scheme was set up with the local Northumberland hatchery, and for every lobster we sell we donate money to the hatchery to enable a baby lobster to be released into the wild. A more sustainable approach to eating lobster. 

What are your plans for 2019?

2019 is looking to be our busiest year yet. We have plans for a big beach cleanup in the summer months. But mainly just focusing on what we are doing now, serving the best quality local fish and seafoods to our customers and keeping them happy!

What are your hopes, and fears, for the future, both locally and globally?

I would love to see big companies getting on board with reducing plastic waste, this being one of the biggest polluters to our oceans. It is vital to get them on board to stop any more damage being done.

Finally, why do you do what you do?   

I have grown up with fish and chips, you could say it runs in the blood! I think our industry is a striving, exciting one to be in, and also one which is constantly pushing to be better – I love that. Providing people with a great quality, sustainable product and service whilst making conscious decisions to help the environment – what more could you want from business?

For more on Colman’s Fish & Chips, visit their website or find them on Twitter.

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