Fish and chip shops expecting Good Friday blitz, but there's no certainty they can keep up

·3 min read
Many people will be looking for their feed of fish and chips on Good Friday. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)
Many people will be looking for their feed of fish and chips on Good Friday. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)

Ches's Famous Fish and Chips shop on Freshwater Road in St. John's won't be packed and overflowing — like their signature chips on a takeaway plate — with hungry patrons in search of their deep-fried fix this Good Friday.

But that's not stopping the Barbour family from doing their best to fulfil the tradition for as many customers as possible. After all, they've had nearly 70 years of practice.

"We are like a well-oiled machine," says Ches' granddaughter, Vicki Barbour.

But this year, once again, has thrown a wrench into the mix.

"These past two Good Fridays," she concedes, "are really keeping us on our toes."

It's a similar narrative for the Duke of Duckworth, a St. John's pub used to brimming with patrons. Capacity restrictions mean they're expecting more deliveries than diners.

This Friday's "so different," sighs co-owner Colin Dalton. His kitchen would normally whip up 500 plates for diners crammed into the mid-size pub. This year, he's forced to lean on app-based delivery services to make up the lost customers.

Thanks to the long-standing Roman Catholic tradition of abstaining from red meat on the last Friday of Lent, or perhaps because many love a deep fried feed, restaurants like Ches's and the Duke typically watch their sales soar on Good Friday.

Colin Dalton, who became a co-owner of The Duke of Duckworth in 1990, has worked at the pub since it opened in 1987.
Colin Dalton, who became a co-owner of The Duke of Duckworth in 1990, has worked at the pub since it opened in 1987.(Darryl Murphy/CBC)

Barbour, who literally grew up in the restaurant, also knows how much the day means to locals, and how hard it is for the restaurant, patrons and staff to scale back the biggest day of the year.

"We are prepping for this Good Friday like it's going to be three times as busy as a normal Friday," said Barbour.

Normally, she said, they'd have 20 times the normal volume of orders, serving 5,000 pounds of fish across six locations. That's close to the weight of an adult black rhinoceros.

They'd also peel and cut by hand 20,000 pounds of potatoes.

On a typical Good Friday the six locations of Ches's could go through 20,000 pounds of potatoes.
On a typical Good Friday the six locations of Ches's could go through 20,000 pounds of potatoes.(Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

In pre-pandemic times, "When you're on the cash and you look and it's just a sea of bodies pressed together like it's George Street at 3 a.m. on a Saturday night, you know you're doing well," Barbour explains.

"That's not going to be the reality this year."

Only 20 people can enter the Freshwater Road location at any time — a fraction of the 73-person capacity. Fewer cooks can crowd into the kitchen. And this year, she's only bought a tenth of her usual haul of cod.

No one can predict, she says, how many plates of fish and chips they can fry. She's hoping nobody walks away empty handed, as they did last year.

Ches's still pride themselves on using the same batter recipe as its founder.
Ches's still pride themselves on using the same batter recipe as its founder. (Submitted by Ches's Famous Fish and Chips)

"We did the best that we could," she said. "The people that we could serve were really happy, and the people that we couldn't let us know. But we are hoping that this year we will be able to serve more people."

Ches's won't be taking pre-orders this year, and Barbour posted to the restaurant's Facebook page that it will offer a limited, first-come, first-serve menu.

The Duke, meanwhile, started fielding pre-orders last month.

"We've been getting emails for two weeks from people looking for fish and chips," Dalton said. He planned to spend Thursday scheduling the meals.

After six weeks of lockdown, he doesn't mind the hustle.

"It's nice to get a nice big infusion, that's for sure," he said.

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