“Sustainable” and “locally-sourced” are buzzwords often thrown around by restaurants to impress customers, but for restaurateur Richardson and his team, they form the mission statement that shapes everything they do at their Stonehaven eatery.
Widely considered to be one of the top fish and chip shops in the UK, The Bay, which is located on the promenade in the north-east town, has a scrolling list of honours that even a top football team would be proud of.
This consistent run of awards and accolades over the past decade culminated in Richardson being named Food Pioneer at the Scotland Food and Drink Excellence Awards in 2018, an award designed to recognise an innovative company or person who has made a ground-breaking impact on Scottish food and drink.
The founder of The Bay saw off tough competition from the likes of chef Nico Simone of Six By Nico, Bottle of Ginger – a social enterprise based in Glasgow’s east end – and Lorna Young of Dumfries and Galloway Food and Drink, to win the prestigious award.
The judging panel cited the talented entrepreneur’s work ethic and his desire to place sustainability, sourcing and education at the forefront of his business – something to be lauded in the current climate of cost-cutting and a desire from many business owners to simply make a quick buck.
Speaking about the judges’ praise, Richardson says: “All three of those things are at the heart of how we run things at The Bay Fish and Chips. We’ve consistently strived to challenge the stereotype that our industry can’t be sustainable.
“Issues like over-fishing, food waste and carbon footprint can affect any chippy, but getting to know and trust a responsible MSC[Marine Stewardship Council]-certified supplier and investing in creative ways to manage food waste and compostable packaging really do make all the difference.
“All you need is a bit of creativity and some hard work – something we’re no strangers to in our industry.
“We’re proud of where we’re from at The Bay, and want to make sure we can keep serving up eco-friendly fish suppers for many years to come.”
Founded in 2006 after the Aberdeen-born and bred businessman left the Armed Forces after ten years service, The Bay was built with an idea to change people’s perspectives on how a fast-food restaurant could be run.
Richardson has dedicated his time in charge investing in his staff and business systems to ensure The Bay is an efficient, sustainable and environmentally-friendly business, and most importantly building up relationships with local suppliers to get the best produce he can.
“All of our meat is sourced from no more than 50 miles away and all of our fish is sustainable. We want the customers to see the provenance of all of our ingredients.”
In fact, almost 90 per cent of all the produce used in the shop is sourced sustainably from within a 50-mile radius, derived from partnerships with the likes of the Ethical Shellfish Company on the Isle of Mull and Harvester at Gourdon – which provide The Bay’s shellfish – along with family-run Couper Seafoods in Aberdeen and Jimmy Buchan’s Amity, which provide the fish and scampi respectively.
“Wherever we can, we must promote sustainability and locality moving forward – there’s so much great produce on our doorstep and we have a responsibility to promote that by using nearby suppliers wherever possible,” Richardson adds.
“When we first started we were always aware of buying sustainable fish, but we used to think being sustainable was what was being caught and landed at Peterhead. Unfortunately, that isn’t really the case; being sustainable is about what’s available in the sea and what is breeding, so we have researched that more.”
Sourcing only the most sustainable seafood has now become almost an obsession, with a continuing desire to serve customers environmentally- friendly food, “right from the sea to their fork”.
This trust with his suppliers is something he sees as vital to the future of the business. “I rely heavily on Coupers to go to the market, he’s my eyes at the market and that bond is important, so I know he’s going to the market to pick the freshest fish that’s there and buy the right size for me, grade it, and I know he’s going to deliver the best products available from the market that day.”
The Bay was the first fish and chip shop in the UK to serve MSC-certified haddock, and today all the haddock, mackerel, coley, hake and cod served at the eatery are MSC-certified.
“All our fish are caught in the North Sea from stocks which are fully sustainable, according to the Marine Conservation Society,” Richardson confirms. “We were the first fish and chip shop in the UK to gain Marine Stewardship Council Chain of Custody to sell Scottish North Sea haddock on our menu.”
This includes their catch of the day as well, which Richardson says is always the “freshest in-season fish” available straight from the market that morning, with nearly all being caught in the wild or very occasionally taken from sustainable farmed sources – these are always marked on the menu with an (F).
“Local and sustainable fish is at the heart of everything we do,” he says. “It’s all about being responsible. By serving MSC fish and following MSC guidelines we’re doing what we can to spread our message – that sustainably sourced fish is the only way forward.
“As more fish become certified by the MSC we’ll start including them on our menu too.”
This desire for sourcing locally extends not only to their chips – many of which are made using potatoes from Ivan Wood and Sons in Fife – but also their salad, which comes from Stonehaven neighbour Lembas Organics, and even their bread, which comes from The Bread Guy, a baking start-up in Inverurie.
It’s something that Richardson takes pride in and he states that it gives him great pleasure knowing that smaller businesses, not just in the northeast, but all across the country are really finding their feet and highlighting just how good our natural larder really is.
“I think Scotland has always been very proud of our food and drink sector, but now we’re starting to see that success being recognised internationally,” he notes.
“Inspired by our produce at home or by the community around them, more Scots are growing in confidence and making their business ideas come to life.
“The sector is flourishing – we have always been grafters, but now I think more and more people are being inspired to actually go out and do something with their ideas.
“It’s time to shake off the negative stereotypes attached to Scottish food and drink. There’s a wealth of fine-dining here in Scotland, but I see a lot of smaller, more ‘every day’ businesses here raising the bar with quality end products – whether that’s a fish supper or a loaf of bread from the local baker – and that’s something we can all take pride in.”
It is this, coupled with reducing the environmental impact of his business – all packaging used at The Bay is compostable and sourced from Vegware – and educating the next generation on the importance of sustainability, that continues to drive Richardson and his team forward. So what’s next?
“We’re going to be doing what we’ve always done,” he says. “Visiting schools, educating the next generation, keeping our sector thriving, encouraging people to pursue careers in sustainable catering, and cooking really, really good food.”
This article first appeared in The Scotsman’s Food and Drink 2019 supplement. A digital version can be found here.