Global goal as Harry Ramsden's sold to chicken magnate

EIGHTY-TWO years ago Harry Ramsden began selling fish and chips from a small wooden hut next to a tram stop in Guiseley, Leeds, a business that would go on to become the most famous fish and chip shop chain in the country.

Now the chain he started has been taken over by a new owner, another self-made British businessman, who is seeking to take the famous taste of this famous Yorkshire brand to an international audience.

Ranjit Boparan, owner of Boparan Ventures, completed his takeover of Harry Ramsden's this week and has unveiled ambitious expansion plans for the chain.

Mr Boparan aims to open a further 100 Harry Ramsden's restaurants in the next five years, a plan he expects to create a total of 600 jobs.

He also wants to take the chain global and he and his team are already formulating plans to begin serving Yorkshire fish and chips to the expanding Chinese and Indian markets.

And despite the enterprising and far-reaching plans, Mr Boparan said he wants to retain the same recipes and image that the historic Yorkshire chain possesses.

"Harry Ramsden's is a great British institution and we want to put it back on the map by focusing on the fundamental basics of superb service, exceptional value and, most importantly, the very best tasting fish and chips you can buy," said Mr Boparan.

"And we're planning to open a further 100 locations within the next five years and expect to create around 600 jobs, taking care to ensure that customers are guaranteed the same consistent quality at every single store."

Mr Boparan will no doubt identify with the story of Harry Ramsden, coming himself from equally humble beginnings. Born and bred in the West Midlands he started his career working in a butcher's shop. Today, his businesses employ more than 6,000 people worldwide and boast worldwide combined annual sales close to the 1bn mark.

The deal he signed for Harry Ramsden's comes less than a year after Mr Boparan's firm rescued the flagging Fishworks restaurant chain.

A spokesman for Mr Boparan told the Yorkshire Post that the takeover "can only be good news for the business" and said the immediate focus would be on improving the brand's existing outlets around the country.

"Guiseley is the flagship store and the biggest fish and chip shop in the world. It has a great reputation and we want to make sure that the quality of the food is the same where you go within the network –we want to get that right."

He said the expansion plans for the rest of the country were already being put in place and that new branch openings would be spread across the country, before looking to move outside of it.

"Initially we will be looking at China and India. In China KFC is the biggest brand and in India fish is a food which does not have the sensitivity that certain meat products have so we will potentially looking to open there as well."

The plans are not the first to have been hatched by owners of the chain to take the brand abroad but Mr Boparan and his team said they wanted to make sure the time was right before expanding.

"Historically the brand has tried its hand abroad in Australia and it has not worked. We want to get it right here first and then look elsewhere.

"We think that so many brands come from abroad and US brands are so strong in the UK. We would like to see our brand being strong overseas too."

As well as Fishworks and now Harry Ramsden's, Mr Boparan owns a number of successful businesses in the food sector including international poultry processor, the 2 Sisters Food Group, which supplies all of the major supermarkets with chicken products.

PUTTING ON THE RITZ...'PALACE' WITH CHANDELIERS

Despite modest beginnings Harry Ramsden made the chain that bore his name a national sensation by adding a touch of class to fish and chip retailing.

Beginning life in a small wooden hut, the quality of the fish and chips he sold meant he would quickly move on to more salubrious surroundings.

Three years after he began trading on December 20, 1928, he moved into his first fish and chip sit-down restaurant, or "palace" as he called it – where is it still is today.

Taking his lead from London's famous Ritz Hotel he installed oak panelling and grand chandeliers in his restaurant.

To celebrate his chain's 25th anniversary in 1952 the restaurant sold a world record 10,000 single portions in just one day's trading.

However, despite the more opulent surroundings and the continuing success he still cooked ever piece of cod and haddock in the same way.

Today, 35 Harry Ramsden fish and chip shops operate around the country, still using his famous secret batter recipe.

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