Pitstop Fastfood helps traditional chip shops fry high and batter the competition
Article Date: 2017-10-12
The humble fish and chips are undergoing a quiet revolution – thanks in part to a Kilkeel businessman.
Boosted by social media and in the face of competition from an enormous range of global cuisines, fish and chip shops across Northern Ireland are delivering a surge in quality cooking as even experienced fish friers search for the smallest improvements to help give them the edge.
Alan Hanna has run Kilkeel’s Pit Stop Fast Food for almost 30 years. During his career, he has picked up a string of national awards along the way and is behind much of the region’s drive for quality.
The 49-year-old said: "Fish and chips has always been one of the healthiest and most nutritious takeaways there is.
"It’s a natural product with three natural ingredients. It’s nutritious and if fried in the right oil and at the right temperature it doesn’t retain its fat.
"But anyone who thinks that it’s simple is missing the point. You’d be amazed at the science that goes into getting it absolutely right these days.”
Alan first opened Pit Stop Fast Food in 1990 with his wife Catrina after they spotted a gap in the market for a good quality fish and chip shop in Northern Ireland’s largest fishing port.
Together, they have been working seven days a week, 363 days a year, they close on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, growing the business so it is now four times the size of the original shop they opened 27 years ago.
With a string of awards to their name, including being named Fish and Chip of the Year five times in the National Fish and Chip Shop Awards, some customers make round trips of up to 80 miles to taste his food. Alan is now taking his quiet revolution across the region.
The couple don’t have any plans to open any new restaurants, "One good fish and chip shop has always been enough for me,” Alan explained. But is instead helping train businesses across Northern Ireland in everything from frying to running a successful takeaway business.
"These days, reputation is everything and you’re only as good as your last fish supper,” Alan said. "People increasingly want the very best quality food and service. If they don’t get it the reviews they post on social media are immediate and can be hugely influential.
"To be at the top of your game, you have to get up every morning looking for ways to improve.”
Alan believes to succeed businesses need to learn from each other. That is why, after 27 years running his own shop, Alan is now helping give something back to the region’s fish industry by judging national competitions and running training courses for new and experienced fish friers alike on behalf of the National Federation of Fish Friers.
Speaking ahead of Seafood Week (6th-13th October), which aims to encourage British consumers to try something new in the seafood sector and discover how simple it is to get more fish in their diet, Alan said: "Being at your best all the time comes down to attention to detail, having a passion for getting every single thing right and a determination to do that every time.
"Even experienced fish friers who have been in the industry all their lives come here to Kilkeel to spend three full days in training because they know they can never rest on their laurels.
"Something that seems as simple as frying fresh fish and potato, you’d be amazed by the science that goes into it. There’s always something new that you can learn.”
Through judging Alan said he hopes to learn something new from every fish and chip shop he visits. Leading training for the National Federation of Fish Friers he then helps share that knowledge with businesses throughout the region.
In the meantime he and his wife are always looking for the next improvement they can make to their own business.
"Social media has already changed the way we operate, and the next step now is to add internet ordering to that,” said Alan.
"We may look like a successful business but we can never rest on our laurels. The public always want better quality food and a better level of service. Our job is to find the ways we can do that.”