How Vicky caught a break when the chips were down

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captain cod
Vicky Webster (left) with friend Leah

LIKE many business owners Vicky Webster feared lockdown would prove disastrous. But with a loyal clientele and by embracing the digital world, her Christchurch chip shop – Captain Cod – has been busier than ever.

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On one night early in the pandemic she recorded her highest ever sales of £2,700. Vicky said: “The app went absolutely mental. In just an hour and a half we had reached that total.

“I went home that night and cried. I had to close the app down as it was going crazy, it was amazing.”

She had launched the ordering app only three weeks before the coronavirus lockdown was imposed and was worried customers would not know about it. Her shop in Stour Road was not allowing customers in, as per government restrictions.

Vicky said: “I was really worried that I would lose the business as I still had a loan of a £1,000 a month to meet, and overnight the government had said I could not have customers in the shop.

“But I was completely wrong.

“I put info about the app on Facebook and orders started pouring in. I had furloughed all the staff, so it was just me in the shop.

“I had to call up my staff and say, ‘Help I need you to come in!’ We now have five staff in the shop and 10 delivery drivers making 160 on average a night between 5pm and 8pm.”

Vicky said the response from customers has been amazing: “I do a video on Facebook every week for my customers. Usually I give them a big hug, but I can’t at the moment.

They’ve been brilliant. I really miss them. Some of them have come down with flowers, chocolate and wine.

“The amount of messages of support I have got has made me cry.”

The delivery service has proved so successful that Vicky intends to expand it when the lockdown is over, saying: “Before lockdown we would only do five to six deliveries a night. But now we are doing absolutely loads.

“Everything has completely changed. We’ve made it into rural areas like Bransgore.

“I’ve invested in a £300 delivery bag which keeps food hotter for longer as sometimes we are driving for half an hour.

“We do not have a delivery charge. I didn’t think it was fair as people don’t have a lot of money at the moment and a lot are not able to get out.”

Fish and chips from Captain Cod

Vicky started working at the fish and chip shop when she was just 13 and took it over with her then husband when she was 19. When the couple divorced three years ago, her husband got their house while she got the business.

Vicky laughs: “At the time it wasn’t a brilliant plan, having two children and being homeless while trying to run a business. I was sofa surfing with two kids and a cat for three months.

“I didn’t think I could carry the shop on. But a good friend of mine gave me a kick and said, ‘You’ve got to do it!’. I’m a strong woman so I got to it.”

Vicky has built up a successful business – her chip shop won best in Christchurch for five years running. She laughed: “They changed it to best takeaway in the end to stop us taking top prize every year.”

Last year she undertook a £70,000 refurbishment. She said: “The range was completely gone as it had been there for 30 years. That was a bit of a shock.”

She credits her team for helping to keep her going during the pandemic and has made sure they are dealing well with lockdown.

Just before the shutdown a close friend died, and she admitted: “My head was just not in the right head space at all but coming into the shop helped because we were so busy.

“But every so often I would start to cry and then all my staff would have a cry with me.

“My message to everyone is to please look after yourself first. Many of us in this industry are very work-orientated and we work hard. But you need to look after yourself too.”

She does a daily WhatsApp chat with her staff to make sure they are all coping with lockdown, saying: “Even if it’s just to have a laugh and a giggle. A couple are having to self-isolate, so just having that contact really helps.”

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