Last August, renowned fish and chip brand Harry Ramsden was snapped up by its rival, Deep Blue Restaurants, for an undisclosed sum.
The move saw Reigate-based Deep Blue acquire the Harry Ramsden’s 34-strong estate – including 15 standalone restaurants, plus a combination of franchises in the UK and in Malaysia.
The move was, said Deep Blue founder and CEO James Low, an opportunity to breathe new life into the world-famous name both at home and in overseas markets.
“Harry Ramsden’s is the iconic name when it comes to fish and chips. When people go into a Harry Ramsden’s they want to enjoy the full experience, because that’s what makes this brand different,” he said.
“I want to restore some of the traditional values – the way the food is served, the way the brand looks and feels – things that have been lost in various misguided attempts to modernise the brand over the years.
“And at an international level, people want something that is quintessentially British. There is nothing more quintessentially British than fish and chips and Harry Ramsden’s is the most famous brand in fish and chips, so we believe there are significant opportunities to promote the name in overseas markets, especially given our highly successful franchise in Malaysia with the Genting Group, which has resorts and restaurants all over the world.”
Low makes it clear that Harry Ramsden’s and his original Deep Blue restaurants, which at the end of 2019 stood at 35, plus a seasonal mobile operation and a franchise in Spain, will continue to be two separate brands.
Deep Blue was founded in 2003 and its focus is on serving fish and chips in the heart of local communities. Across the south of the country its operations include Horsham, Yateley, Reading, Southsea and Cobham, with other locations stretching as far as County Durham and Norfolk.
He continues: “Deep Blue does extremely well by having local community fish and chip shops where people simply want to buy good quality fish and chips, served well in a pleasant environment.
“When we’re looking at new opportunities, if these are local then Deep Blue will be the brand of choice, but in coastal locations or holiday destinations where customers want to experience seaside fish and chips, then Harry Ramsden’s will be the favoured brand.”
Harry Ramsden’s was founded 90 years ago in West Yorkshire, and Low believes franchising and licensing agreements will be the key to enhancing future growth.
Last September, the “Proudly Serving Harry Ramsden” concept was launched as a new branded menu proposition for restaurant, pub and catering partners in the UK, and among those to have already taken it on board are Debenhams and Mecca Bingo.
Low says those organisations have already enjoyed an “enormous improvement” because of the association with the brand and he sees plenty of opportunity for expansion with other licensees.
Providing financial support and funding for the expansion programme is Barclays, which has worked with Deep Blue for the past three years.
“Barclays have always been very much in tune with our vision, they understood that this was an extremely important opportunity for us. The acquisition has accelerated our growth very dramatically, strategically it is a very important move and from the beginning Barclays has recognised just how important this absolutely iconic brand is to our future success,” added Low.
His own route into the fish and chip business began after he sold his software company in the early 2000s.
Investing with a former colleague, Low bought his first fish and chip shop and, in his own words, “made many mistakes but it was an invaluable learning experience”.
Since then however a lot has changed, and today it’s clear that with a focus on quality and service in its community locations and the iconic Harry Ramsden brand wrapped up, the Deep Blue Restaurant group is well on the road to serving up its own success story.
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