Preston's oldest chippy shares details of the battered treat its customers love

As the owner of what is thought to be Preston’s oldest fish and chip shop, Craig Thornton-Smith is often probed for the secret ingredient that keeps customers coming back for more.
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Surprisingly, the fish aficionado - whose Tulketh Chippy is this month celebrating 35 years in his own family and has been in business for more than a century in all - is more than happy to share the simple tip with his rivals.

“You’ve just got to keep everything the same,” he reveals.

“Don’t change your gravy or your curry - and keep to the same spuds and pies.”

The Thornton-Smith family have been in the business of battering and frying for 35 yearsThe Thornton-Smith family have been in the business of battering and frying for 35 years
The Thornton-Smith family have been in the business of battering and frying for 35 years
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Of course, the success of that strategy hinges on having a popular product in the first place. But having stood on the corner of Tulketh Brow and Roebuck Street since at least the early years of the 20th century, the Tulketh Chippy - which was identified in the 1911 census as a “chipped potato restaurant” - can surely boast that it knows how to satisfy its customers.

For Craig, that included fulfilling some of their more off-the-wall requests when he first took over the business in 2001 from his parents, Tom and Sheila, who had been running it since 1988.

People used to come in all the time asking for battered Mars Bars,” he recalls.

“They would buy them in the shop next door and then bring them in here - but I stopped doing them eventually, as it’s not good for the oil.”

Anny Thornton-Smith celebrating the 35 years the business has been in her familyAnny Thornton-Smith celebrating the 35 years the business has been in her family
Anny Thornton-Smith celebrating the 35 years the business has been in her family
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However, the only time his official menu ever flirted with offering something different was the occasion that Craig learned his lesson about consistency being the key to takeaway success.

“I changed my pies once to get them from a butcher - they were these lovely big pies that were made fresh. But all the customers went mad, because they just wanted Holland’s pies back - so you just can’t change stuff,” he laughs.

“I suppose it makes sense, really - people are coming for a certain taste [that they like], so if you change, say, your gravy, you’ll probably lose a lot of customers.”

Although Craig still owns the chippy, along with his wife, Anny - who helps out when needed in the shop, but is a recently-retired painter and decorator by trade - he stepped back from the day-to-day running of the business several years ago. Nowadays, it is the couple’s son, Josh, who can usually be found behind the counter.

"Stone The Crows" helping Tulketh Chippy get into the swing of things"Stone The Crows" helping Tulketh Chippy get into the swing of things
"Stone The Crows" helping Tulketh Chippy get into the swing of things
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While he has taken his Dad’s advice about consistency, Josh is always on the lookout for any way of ensuring that the family firm remains the, ahem, plaice to come.

To that end, he is considering bringing back an old favourite that was popular with past generations of customers - ‘batter bits’.

Meanwhile, Craig plans to pass the business onto his son when pressure from ingredient prices eventually eases and makes the operation a bit more profitable.

And the fifty-four-year old admits that while almost two decades of cooking fish and chips was more than enough for him, he is far from done with eating them.

“All my mates laugh at me, because whenever I go out for a meal anywhere, I always have fish and chips. I just love them.”

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