The Caterer

John Barnes

01 January 2000
John Barnes

John Barnes, chairman and chief executive of the Leeds-based Harry Ramsden's, has taken a single fish and chip restaurant and expanded it into an international brand.

In the 60 years since Harry Ramsden opened his original Guiseley shop in 1928, and the nearby restaurant eight years later, Harry Ramsden's has a gained worldwide reputation and is now seen as a "destination restaurant".

In 1965, the restaurant was bought by Associated Fisheries, and continued to trade successfully. It became the world's biggest fish and chip restaurant, serving a million customers a year, but it was going nowhere.

Not until Barnes, previously managing director of KFC in the UK, came on to the scene in 1988, did the expansion start.

People had been asking, as the hamburger and pizza chains exploded on to British high streets: "When is someone going to develop a popular fish and chip chain?"

And when Barnes was appointed, there were doubts about his strategy of creating a chain of destination restaurants, rather than a typical fast-food-style roll-out.

But the strategy is obviously working. There are now 11 Harry Ramsden's in the UK and this figure could rise to 35 units eventually.

Franchised Harry Ramsden's have opened on sites not usually associated with traditional fish and chip restaurants - including Heathrow Airport - and there are more Harry Ramsden's airports sites planned, even overseas.

Barnes has been the driving force that has brought together a skilled team, struck joint ventures to develop the new restaurants and carry the developments forward - all with the traditional "tablecloths and chandeliers" decor.

As well as his impressive energy, Barnes has an invaluable instinct for public relations. Soon after he joined the then Kentucky Fried Chicken, the business pages of The Times were reporting his plans to "reposition" this rather tired fast-food brand.

With Harry Ramsden's the quality image was already in place, and Barnes has exploited every opportunity to get the brand into the press. For example, in May 1992, Harry Ramsden's in Glasgow set a new world record by serving 11,964 take-away meals in a day. And people queued for more than four hours for the privilege.

Both turnover and profits have increased dramatically in the past two financial years. In the year to October 1994, Harry Ramsden's produced pre-tax profits of £950,957 from turnover of£3.58m.

Harry Ramsden's was floated on the third market in 1989, joined the unlisted securities market when the third market was wound up, and since March this year its shares have been listed on the main London Stock Exchange.

On that occasion, Barnes told the City institutions: "We want to be the world's most famous fish and chip brand."

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