Forty years ago Chris Ramus established Ramus Seafood in Harrogate. Catherine Scott looks back over four decades and their campaign to get us eating more fish.
It might be one of the most landlocked parts of the country, being 50 miles from the nearest coast, but Harrogate boasts its own seafood emporium. This is no ordinary fishmongers, where a man in a blood-stained apron fillets bits of obligatory cod, haddock or salmon for his customers.
Ramus Seafood Emporium, as the sign outside the King’s Road store grandly boasts, has more than 50 types of fish and shellfish on offer from knowledgeable staff encouraging their customers to try something different. And it’s no longer just seafood on sale. The emporium, which opened in 2000, sells everything from wine to accompany your lobster, to herbs and spices and homemade pâtés.
It looks very different to the shop opened by founder Chris Ramus in 1974. Chris, along with his wife Liz, established what was then plain Ramus Seafoods with the aim of being the best fish and seafood supplier in the country. Their first shop was on Otley Road and, building on the experience gained in his father’s butchery business, Chris saw a gap in the market for supplying fresh quality seafood to the county’s best restaurants.
He became known for supplying Scottish lobster to Harrogate hotels – over the past 40 years Ramus has sold two million of them. A black and white photograph hangs in the offices of Chris holding one the largest lobsters ever caught.
With its reputation building and Harrogate clamouring for Ramus’s fresh fish and lobster, the company moved to new premises on King’s Road in 1983.
Complete with retail shop, a state of the art processing plant and huge seawater lobster tanks, Ramus was able to supply fresh quality fish across Yorkshire and beyond on a daily basis.
Surprisingly, the processing plant and lobster tanks, which can now hold up to 3,000 live lobsters, are still on King’s Road. The shop is now offices.
Although Chris is no longer involved in the business, the men now at the helm say that Ramus still carries on his original ethos of supplying quality seafood. In 1999 Ramus moved from a partnership to a limited company, with directors Jonathan Batchelor and Tony Rushton taking a share of the company. Managing director Batchelor joined Ramus 25 years ago and there isn’t much he doesn’t know about fish.
“I had no intention of becoming a fishmonger,” says Jonathan, from Ilkley. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. After university I ended up working in Asda where my sister was an HR manager. I worked in fruit and veg for six months and then moved onto the fish counter.”
When a job came up at Ramus, he decided to apply. “At the age of 24 I felt I needed to commit to something. I remember going home to my wife after I’d spent my first week boning salmon and saying that I was going to give it five years and then move on. Just over five years on Tony and I bought the business out from Chris and Liz.”
By opening the Emporium they wanted to dispel the image of a fishmonger often portrayed on TV. “They always seemed to be dark places, with fishmongers in blood-stained aprons cutting up fish out the back. We wanted to create somewhere that people actually wanted to go into, somewhere that attracted people and encouraged them to try new types of fish. Fish is a premium product and it should be given a premium premises and a premium service,” Jonathan says.
The model established, they decided to open a second shop in Ilkley in 2007. Despite its far-reaching success Ramus has not been impervious to the effects of the recession. “It was a challenging period for a lot of people, especially in retail, and survival was the key. That’s quite a difficult place to exist for a long period of time. The great thing for us is that time has now gone.”
This year the business secured a significant investment from TIM Group Holdings, an independent investment business founded by Yorkshire entrepreneur Tim Whitworth. “The Ramus story is very special and I can’t wait to help the team with the next stage of their journey,” says Tim.
For Jonathan, it is an equally exciting time. “We are very excited about the future with our new partners. It will allow us to expand further hopefully both our restaurant trade and retail business.”
Although trade is still a major part of Ramus’s business, the company is taking its 40th anniversary and the increased investment as a chance to encourage us all to eat more seafood.
A cookery book is in the offing and a social media campaign #eatmoreseafood is being launched. To mark the new era the logo has been updated and a new website created aimed at giving more information about different fish and shellfish and just what to do with it.
Jonathan realises it will always be challenge getting people to experiment with different types of fish. He travels to food festivals and gives talks and demonstrations in a bid to encourage people to expand their horizons.
“It is a tough battle, as we do seem to have a strange relationship with things that come from the sea,” he admits. “One of the main problems is that people think fish is difficult to cook and they are scared of cooking it as they seem to think they might get ill or that it will be full of bones. Fish is easy to cook, although it can be difficult to get right which is another reason why some people don’t like it.
“When I go to food fairs and cook different fish for people to try they like it. If I can cook it anybody can. Our challenge is to get them cooking it at home.”
• For more on the #eatmoreseafood campaign and other events to mark the 40th anniversary of Ramus Seafood visit www.ramus.co.uk