FRY NOV 22

SHOP FOCUS

With its 16th site due to open this month, Simone Varese, one of the directors behind Scotland’s growing fish and chip chain Blue Lagoon, talks about the opportunities and challenges his family business is facing

The very first Blue Lagoon opened its doors almost 50 years ago on Sauchiehall Street, now one of the main shopping streets in the centre of Glasgow. It was the result of years of hard work by Italian-born Ersilio Varese and childhood sweetheart Edda who built up enough capital running two chippies previously to take the gamble and follow their dream of opening in Glasgow. At that time, there was a lot of competition in fish and chips and the area itself wasn’t the 24/7 hive of activity that it is today. The first two to three years were a struggle, but slowly the other chip shops disappeared, the flow of traffic in town started to move towards the area, and trade got better and better. Sauchiehall Street became a success and formed the foundations for future expansion across the city. Over the years, shops have come and shops have gone, with the chain now sitting at an impressive 15. Many of these are now outside of Glasgow in cities such as Perth and Sterling, as well as coastal areas such as Largs, Ayr and Balloch near Loch Lomond, where the growth in tourists all craving fish and chips has provided clear opportunities to expand the business.

hard and the experience we have within the company, and the fact there are a few of us now all very much concentrated on what we’re doing, we’re managing to keep on a steady footing so far.” Challenges As with all of hospitality right now, Blue Lagoon is struggling with staffing, however, its business model makes it slightly tougher. Having built much of its business on the late- night market, Blue Lagoon has half a dozen shops in town open to 5am, seven days-a- week, and finding the workforce who want to do that regularly isn’t easy. But Simone has learnt not to let it get him down. “Staffing is always an issue. But one of my father’s sayings whenever we’ve had our head in our hands because a couple of friers have left or a manager has left is that he’d never known a day where you don’t have a staffing issue somewhere of some degree. That’s just the way business is when you’re relying on other people to carry out your service, so to speak.” The other ongoing challenge is rising energy bills with costs at one shop alone tripling from £500 a month to £1,500. While Simone welcomes the government’s initial

Run by third-generation brothers Simone, Allesandro and Gianluca Varese, they attribute much of the growth to their predecessors’ experiences which have taught them to work hard, save for a rainy day, maintain a healthy bank balance and not overspend. “Both my grandfather and my father came into the business when it was a little bit of a struggle so they grew up in those darker days when the bank balance wasn’t always looking so healthy,” says Simone. “We’ve grown up aware of that so we only spend when we know we can spend and we’re sensible about it. Before we take on another site and go from 14 to 15 to 16 we will do our due diligence to the point where we are as close as we can be to thinking right this will work. If there’s any doubt, we don’t take the plunge.” That history and combined experience has also taught the family not to take anything for granted and that things can turn on sixpence. “Look at what we’ve just been through,” says Simone. “Who would have thought the city centre would be shut down completely? Now we’re battling electricity prices and the cost of living. You don’t know what’s around the corner. But by and large, between working

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FRY MAGAZINE - NOVEMBER 2022

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