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Barnacle Bill’s Fish & Chips Shop, Cambridge, Ontario

Member Since: 
October, 2010

Barnacle Bill’s Fish & Chips Shop: Taking a Fresh Look at Fish Preparation

“Barnacle’s Fish and Chips are better than I Had in England” – 5 of 5 starsTripAdvisor.ca “I have just come back from a trip to England, and on my list of must-have foods, as always, was fish and chips. The meal I had was OK. However, my first visit to Barnacle Bill's upon my return, confirmed my suspicion - Barnacle Bill's was better! I never thought I would be able to say that of a Canadian fish and chip restaurant... looking forward to going again very soon. “

Jean Wakefield, Paris, Canada

Barnacle Bill’s in Cambridge, Ontario, has changed up its Fish and Chips preparation to offer customers more menu options.

A traditional menu item, Fish and Chips was once considered a food staple during the 1800’s in London, England. Owners Coleen and John Bolen have changed the original formula of deep-frying strips of cod and haddock fish on its once crusty tail. They have recently switched from using beef fat that contains 42% saturated, to cooking with vegetable oil whose contents have only seven percent of saturated fat.

The changes are not just in the kitchen, as these business and life partners respond to their customer's input on how they wish to have their food prepared.

“I try to offer healthy choices on the menu as opposed to our customers being concerned about what they are eating. Too often, we found that people often associated fish and chips with grease,” said Colleen. On the contrary Barnacle Bill’s diners can choose between broiling their fish, as opposed to everything being deep fried. As well, Barnacle Bill’s offers a range of salads including house and Caesar and they offer diners a baked potato substitute to the traditional French fries.

The owners do whatever it takes to keep customers happy. They find that encouraging customers to custom order their meals has helped business grow. “We probably try to cater to our customers a little too much. It's hard to take some orders because they can be very specific in their preparation instructions. They have been coming here forever, and so they know exactly how they want their food order prepared." Also, special orders make the kitchen “a little more hectic” because they're broiling and baking as opposed to just throwing everything in a deep fryer.”

Another change in the traditional approach to food preparation is their focus on breakfast menu items.

“We serve breakfast and poach our eggs, which is unique for a fish and chip shop.” Barnacle’s also makes omelets out of egg whites. “People come in now, and say, "Oh, I want Coleen's omelet." That’s because I make my Coleen omelet with egg whites, mushrooms and onions. I went to Weight Watchers, so I try and keep everything in compliance with their low points system.

Coleen finds that a focus on healthy dining options for customers is good for business. “Even local area doctors will recommend us to their patients because they know how we cook. I've had customers come in, and say, Doctor so and so said that if I'm going to eat out, I have to go to Barnacle Bill's."
We're downtown, so there's lots of doctor's offices in the area. They frequent us as well, so they know our menu. They like that their patients come here to eat, and they know it's prepared to provide a healthy choice.”

In fact, we have customers who come here seven days a week including families. I had one father and son come in recently. The father said, ‘I just tried to take my son to McDonald's, and he said, “No, I want to go to Barnacle Bill's’...I mean this speaks volumes about the success of our menu approach.”

The biggest factor in the Boland’s recent sales success after taking over the now modernized 84 seat restaurant, 18 years ago, is the recent re-development occurring in Downtown Cambridge that has a population of 130,000 residents.

For example, Drayton Entertainment’s New Dunfield Theatre opened in 2013 and is a 500-seat live performance theatre located across from Barnacle’s Grand Avenue location. First run theatre groups are drawing crowds twice a day, six days a week and have been a huge boost to their business volume.

The Boland’s have made a lot of changes over the years as they keep experimenting and responding to customers looking for casual dining. A seasonal patio is an attraction as their restaurant backs on the Grand River.

Barnacle Bill’s is open 8 am to 8 pm, every day, and employs 15 people. As well, family members act in the capacity of employees. (Two of Coleen’s restaurant managers came with the transfer of the business, Jackie and Sandra, who bring continuity for returning customers.)

Although Barnacle’s competes with some big franchises, they find that the best advertising is word of mouth. “As customers enjoy themselves, it's their whole visit that counts. It's not just that they come and sit down to have fish and chips and then leave. They come in and get into conversations. They meet people. So I think the best marketing is word of mouth, Coleen stated.”

To keep cost downs Coleen joined UNIPCO to get good prices on products. “UNIPCO does my negotiating for prices and it frees up a lot of time for me. I used to have to check my invoices every week, every month and call the suppliers. Now, that is UNIPCO’s job, and they set me up with Flanagan’s, who are a wonderful distributor. “

The Boland’s son is in third-year Media Studies, at the University of Western Ontario, and the parents are hoping he will take over the restaurant in time. “Well, I'm hoping, when he's done, he's going to come and take over, so I can travel a little bit more… I like to fish,” Coleen hinted.

“I have a fishing boat in Newfoundland. I will fish for cod every day for three weeks during the month of July, this year. We're right on the Atlantic. I have a summer home on the water in a little place called Portugal Cove. It is ten miles outside the St. John's, NFLD. We go way out into the Atlantic Ocean where we can catch cod. “

Coleen laughs and says, “So, I have no problem recommending cod fish to my customers back here” in Ontario. Probably 90% of my business is cod.”

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