We speak to Vicky Webster – owner of four-time Best Fish and Chip Shop winner Captain Cod – about their soaring success, helping the community, and plans for the future…
Despite financial fears faced by businesses over lockdown, with many having to close their doors indefinitely, the nation’s staple takeaway of fish and chips has enjoyed a boom in sales. According to online takeaway portal Foodhub, fish and chips orders have seen their popularity boosted by an uplift of 208% – figures Captain Cod can attest to.
Situated on Stour Road, fish and chip shop Captain Cod has been a much-loved fixture of Christchurch for over two decades. At the shop’s helm is Vicky Webster, who first started working there at 13, before taking over the business at just 19-years-old.
“It’s just going really well,” says Vicky, beaming with pride. “We have a really good team. I’m just really happy everything’s going really well at the moment.”
A MODERN APP-ROACH
Much of Captain Cod’s success over the past few months can be attributed to their app, launched earlier this year to facilitate deliveries and bring in more customers.
The implementation of the app, according to Vicky, was recommended by a winner of Fish and Chips of the Year at Women in Fish and Chips – a new convention in Birmingham celebrating the achievements of female-owned chip shops.
The app was released shortly before lockdown was introduced in March. Unfortunately, Vicky’s plans to officially launch the app in commemoration of the second anniversary of Captain Cod’s refitting were unable to go ahead.
Despite this setback, the app’s investment has proven to play an integral role in the shop’s recent success – even without advertisements.
“We went from six to ten deliveries a night to 160 overnight,” Vicky says, adding that these were ‘record sales’.
The small team of staff at Captain Cod had to be ‘unfurloughed’ due to the unprecedented demand.
Facebook has also been crucial in raising Captain Cod’s profile. As well as using the platform to message customers and keep them updated on their deliveries, Vicky has also been posting adverts for upcoming ventures.
One of their recent posts boasted 40,000 views within a day, shocking Vicky: “I didn’t realise there were that many people around Christchurch!”
In addition to the growing popularity within the local area, Captain Cod has begun attracting clientèle from across the country. Customers are even flocking from counties such as Berkshire – an impressive feat for a shop that can only deliver as far as Townsend.
“I still think I’m just this little shop,” Vicky confesses. “That it’s just me and my friends and a few people know about us. But when I went up to a couple of conventions [people were] like, ‘Oh, yeah – I’ve heard of your chippy!’
“Someone from Reading said, ‘Oh, we come down here just to use your chippy.'”
While Captain Cod may be marking Christchurch’s spot on the map, Vicky is surprised by the national attention her life’s work has been receiving.
“It’s just amazing. You just think, ‘I’m just so little – why would anyone really want to bother?’ So it’s just really nice that people do.
“It makes you feel good. It makes you wanna get up and do it. So I’ve got the passion back.”
“ALL OUR HARD WORK HAS PAID OFF”
Earlier this month, Captain Cod was awarded the title of Best Food Delivery in Christchurch by Restaurant Guru 2020 – another accolade added to their arsenal of achievements.
“I was quite shocked with that,” admits Vicky. “We had a few teething problems like everyone. Everything that’s happening at the moment is completely new to everyone and I just had no idea how many deliveries we were going to do. Or even how long it takes to just do one.
“It was really hard at first, but we’ve got there and to get the award was quite shocking. I just thought, ‘Oh, my goodness!'”
Upon receiving the award, Vicky wrote on Captain Cod’s official Facebook page: “Very pleased to be awarded this, I know we had some teething problems in this uncertain time but all our hard work has paid off.
“Thankyou (sic) everyone for supporting us.”
HEART OF THE COMMUNITY
Following her divorce four years ago, Vicky said her husband – with whom she used to run the shop – kept the house while she was ‘left homeless’ with nothing but Captain Cod to her name.
“What [my ex-husband] failed to tell me was that the range was broken and [the shop] couldn’t run as a business, so I got the bad end of the deal.
“So I had to try and get a loan with no address to refit it two years ago.”
For Vicky, who once had to rely on the kindness of others to survive, helping the local community is paramount. Her own experience has fuelled her philanthropic drive, such as recently offering free kids’ meals for those in need.
“Because I was homeless, I had no food – nothing,” Vicky says. “And because I owned a business, the council wouldn’t help me, so I literally had to rely on my friends.
“Even people in the shop said, ‘Oh, here’s some chocolates for the weekend or a bottle of wine.’ It was really nice, so I thought this was my way of giving back.”
Initially, Captain Cod was offering 100 free meals for children this half-term. However, this number has since doubled to over 200 due to customers donating when they order through the app. Vicky has also donated 30 meals to local youth clubs this week as part of the cause.
Captain Cod can be found along the BH23 Pumpkin Trail, an event replacing trick or treating where children are instead encouraged to hunt pumpkins across Dorset.
For Halloween, Vicky also included free sweets with all kids’ meals in lieu of cancelled traditions.
Additionally, the shop removed the £1 delivery charge during lockdown because they ‘knew people wouldn’t be able to get out’ – even for deliveries stretching as far as Highcliffe and Bransgore.
Vicky also acknowledges that customers may be reluctant about asking for help, leading her to take the initiative by reaching out first.
“There’s a few people that I know that I’ve just messaged and said, ‘Right – I’ve booked you in for this day to have a delivery; you’re having it. I’ve just raided my cupboards and just got some stuff in there.’ And [they say], ‘Oh really, thank you – you don’t have to do that.’ But I know they won’t ask, so I’ve just done it.
“But we need people to just come to the door and not be worried about it, or even ring up and ask for a delivery. That’s the problem; they’re just too scared to ask.”
Despite all she has done for the community, Vicky remains modest: “I just feel like what I’m doing is because I had nothing; I know what it’s like.
“So I just do as much as I can and it just comes naturally to me, because that’s how I think people should always treat people.”
Vicky is also grateful for the community, adding, “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t still be standing. So you have look after them first and it always just comes back.”
THE NEXT VAN-TURE
Be sure to look for Captain Cod’s signature chip van touring the roads over the coming months. Embossed with hot pink text and their sassy, plump-lipped cod mascot, it’ll be hard to miss what Vicky refers to as ‘the next venture.’
“We’ve just been asked to do the local pantomimes and the drive-in movies,” says Vicky. “It’s so scary because I have to commit two of my weekends to something I’ve never cooked in before.
“I’m so used to a big range and a full team, whereas there’s only two people on [the van] and a tiny little range.
“And there’s more people at those drive-ins than there is coming in every night so I’m really scared. But I have to pull through it.”
Vicky also has her sights set on next year’s Stompin’ on the Quomps, a Christchurch-based jazz festival:
“I know that there was another chip shop that was doing it locally, but unfortunately they’ve stopped doing that now. That’s why I’ve never really done it, because I didn’t want to step on their toes.
“So now they’ve gone, I felt, ‘Do you know what? I’d love to do it!'”
In the meantime though, prepare for Captain Cod’s upcoming Christmas menu. Especially their newest arrival – battered mince pies.
Follow Captain Cod on Facebook to keep up with their latest news. And if you’re craving some cod and chips, download the Captain Cod Christchurch app, available now on both Google Play (Android) and the App Store (iOS). For more local Catering and Hospitality stories, click here. Plus, you can follow HQB Media on all our social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.