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‘Perfect storm' of ingredients, says Mitch Tonks of Rockfish's summer success

13 August 2020 by

Rockfish founder Mitch Tonks has been celebrating "phenomenal" sales since all nine sites reopened across Devon and Dorset, with all 274 staff back from furlough and a further 25 new members joining the seafood restaurant group.

Tonks told The Caterer that sales of Dover sole and lobster, in particular, had been "going absolutely crazy", adding that within the first three days of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme the business had sold 1,800 lobsters across the nine sites.

He said: "It's been the perfect storm of good business, good people and great weather."

Sales in some sites are already equal to last year and overall like-for-like sales are currently only 7% below last summer's trading, despite social distancing measures which have resulted in reduced covers.

Tonks put the success of seafood sales partly down the public's renewed love for fresh, local seafood during lockdown, adding: "I've never seen so much interest in English seafood."

He also revealed details of the new retail fish market, due to launch in the autumn at the Brixham site, which will focus on selling portions of easy-to-cook fresh fish. The ‘state of the art' fishmongers will allow customers to order wet fish for home delivery or to collect after dining at one of the restaurants, where it will be packed into cool-bags ready to take home at the end of the meal.

Tonks said that even the uptake at the Poole restaurant – which opened just three weeks before it was forced to close by lockdown – had been ‘phenomenal' and had had a "huge big bounce back". He said that the business had become "better and stronger" during lockdown thanks to more communication between the teams.

"During lockdown we were baffled at the beginning as to what was going to happen. We started communicating more in the business with daily Zoom calls and looked at parts of the business that could be better."

As a result, he took time to re-evaluate and redesign some elements of the business, of which some, such as introducing fries instead of regular chips onto the menu, had been "trial and error".

The Plymouth site, which was the first to reopen as the ‘canary', went particularly well, he said.

"In the south-west, it's been incredibly busy and the weather's helped."

He added that the hardest part of reopening had been having to adapt to a changing environment of the new safety protocols, combined with balancing customers' expectations.

"We took all the guidelines and said, ‘how can we do hospitality and make the mask invisible?' We looked at one-way systems, personal sanitisers… We've employed two extra people per restaurant, per shift, and all they do is clean."

Tonks added that he anticipated the British public embracing "more and more" fish restaurants over the months to come, with a focus on "sustainable, local south coast fish".

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