Husband and wife team Adam and Lucy Riley set up Riley’s Fish Shack at King Edward’s Bay in Tynemouth in 2013 with the help of a Start Up loan from Transmit Start-Ups. Five years on, the business has won the hearts and satisfied the appetites of North East neighbours and seaside visitors from afar – including celebrity chef Michel Roux Jr and restaurant critic Jay Rayner from The Observer.
Riley's Fish Shack is on the Scaleup North East programme - an initiative from the North East LEP that works with businesses that can demonstrate both the hunger and potential to achieve high levels of growth.
We caught up with Lucy Riley to find out about life at the helm of this business success story and what’s next for the talented team.
About Riley’s Fish Shack:
- Sector: Hospitality
- Co-owner/Co-founder: Lucy Riley
- In business since: 2013
- Website: rileysfishshack.com
Lucy, can you sum up your business journey so far in the time it takes to make a brew?
We are all about fabulous fish, locally caught and served simply. We started out at Tynemouth Food Festival in 2012 and went on to co-found the renowned music and street food event The Boiler Shop Steamer in 2013. After establishing demand for our food we secured a Start Up loan for a purpose-built kitchen and wet room at North Shields so we could develop a permanent base. A crowd-funding campaign, which raised £20,000 in only 56 days, funded new premises in two converted shipping containers at King Edward’s Bay. From here we cook local and seasonal fish simply, over a charcoal fire. We also now own a smaller ‘lite’ version on Newcastle’s Quayside, which we currently let to other food operators that share our values.
Tell us about your business highlights so far
A real game-changer for us came about when Michel Roux Jr came to be film part of his Chanel Four Hidden Restaurants programme with us last year. He then tipped off restaurant critic Jay Raynor about what we were doing and that led to a visit and glowing review in The Observer. It was a real pressure for Adam to cook for such high profile diners! Thankfully they loved what they were served and they went on to spread the word about our food nationally and internationally. It was an incredible boost to our whole team to be recognised by such highly-esteemed food experts.
Where are you based and why does it work for your business?
Riley’s Fish Shack was born from our love of fresh, honest, healthy seafood of which there seemed a real shortage of in our hometown of Tynemouth. There’s so much seafood caught here, but much of it is often shipped abroad and not eaten here – often because people don’t know it is available. We wanted to change that and work closely with a trusted and growing network of local suppliers. We deal directly with regional fisheries – as well as chocolatiers, brewers, bakers and coffee suppliers for other items on our menus. Being located on the shorefront is not only a tourist attraction but also means the catch we serve is freshly caught – this is our USP.
What are the biggest hurdles you’ve had to overcome on your way to establishing a successful business in the North East?
The seasonal nature of our business has been, and remains, our biggest challenge. We do have our loyal and hardy regulars who will venture down the cliff steps to see us come rain, shine, hail, sleet or snow! But business booms when the sun shines and this challenge forces us to think outside of the box (or shipping container!) to look for new ways to develop the business without jeopardising or changing too much what we’ve built to date. Solutions and opportunities tend to come from the networks and relationships you build. Our smaller venue at the Quayside is an example of that. We now bring in an income from renting that out to other trusted food businesses in our network who benefit from a great trading spot and launch platform for their work.
How easy have you found it to access business support and what do you think has had the most impact on your plans for growth so far?
We’ve found it fairly easy to find and access business support. The loan we received from Transmit Start-Ups helped massively at the beginning because it paved the way to us having a permanent base. The mentoring provided along with the loan meant we could ask questions of someone who had experience of running his own business – someone who would give us an honest answer and advice worth listening to. We are currently working with Transmit Consulting to put in place plans to grow the business – we accessed this support via Business Northumberland. We are also receiving growth support from the North East LEP.
What advice would you give to others in the North East that are looking to start their own business?
Try to find someone who has done something similar before to bounce ideas off. But while it’s important to test ideas on others, it’s most important to be bold! Sometimes you have to push a bit to make things happen but trust your instincts because it’s worth the effort if your idea is right.
What’s the next innovation on the horizon?
Up until now we have been busy refining what we do to get it right and now that we have that history to build upon we are ready to grow. Our growth will come from making Riley’s a year-round business with fewer seasonal spikes in trade. We are working on new ways to bring a taste of the seaside to people through the winter and on chillier days but in the meantime we are looking forward to some sunshine at the shack over the summer months and cooking for the crowds that we hope will follow!
Sourcing external support to grow their business has been crucial to Lucy and Adam – click here to find a full list of experts who can help with your growth plans.
For more information about the Scaleup North East programme, visit www.scaleupnortheast.co.uk