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New horizons for fish and chip shop owners with half a century behind them

PUBLISHED: 15:13 05 July 2019 | UPDATED: 15:24 05 July 2019

Mark and Jonathan Hollings enjoying tea in Gallery Bistro PICTURE: Archant

Mark and Jonathan Hollings enjoying tea in Gallery Bistro PICTURE: Archant

Archant

They are well-known faces in Fakenham having spent more than half a century between them working in popular fish and chip shop Drifters. Now Jonathan and Mark Hollings are moving on to new horizons. Reporter MATTHEW FARMER caught up with them...

Drifters Traditional Fish and Chips in Fakenham PICTURE: ArchantDrifters Traditional Fish and Chips in Fakenham PICTURE: Archant

There can't be many people in Fakenham who don't know or at least recognise Jonathan and Mark Hollings.

They have spent more than half a century between them working in one of Fakenham's most popular takeaways and restaurants, Drifters fish and chip shop.

For many years they co-owned the business, but have now hung up their aprons after finishing their last shift at the Oak Street chippy.

Mr Felton will now continue to run Drifters with his team.

"It was mental, but sad," said Mark. "It would be so easy to carry on," replied Jonathan, "but we need a change."

During our time talking in the Gallery Bistro, in Fakenham Market Place, three different people approached to catch up with the Hollingses. They spoke with a former employee and had their praises sung by one lady who said they would be "the greatest loss to the town", speaking about how they had helped her father. "We didn't tell her to say that, honest," Jonathan joked.

"Her father was diagnosed with vascular dementia, and every Friday he would ring his order in, then forget he'd done it and ring again. We set up a system where she could pay for his chips in advance, so every Friday his carer could come and collect them to save him calling for over an hour."

He and Mark say they are "people people." Jonathan said: "Once, we went to Cuba over Christmas. So we walked into Gatwick on Christmas morning at about 4am, and as we walk into the departure lounge we hear 'cod and chips twice'. We'll get it everywhere."

The pair have come a long way since they joined the shop. Specifically, they came from behind the cinema to opposite the library, but struggled to think of any particularly hard times. "It used to be that on a Thursday, we would be full on for about three and a half hours at lunch.

"You don't have that any more, about half of it is gone. I think having the supermarket with free parking opposite has helped the town and has certainly helped us, but there have been a lot of brands moving in. Still, we do quite well at the chip shop."

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Jonathan added "We've had several celebrities in. We had Rick Stein, and the Hairy Bikers just perched on the wall outside when they ate. Trigger from Only Fools and Horses [Roger Lloyd-Pack] used to come in quite often."

Regardless, Jonathan emphasised how important it was to treat all customers the same. "We always want to treat people like human beings. For a lot of shops you go in to buy things and that's it. But we speak to everybody, all the same."

Mark said: "I used to know what 80pc of customers would have. Well, maybe not 80pc."

Many will remember the pair for the grand fundraisers they did for Children in Need.

Jonathan said: "Finding costumes and themes that suit 12 staff is hard. Getting them to wear them wasn't; at interviews we'd say 'You will be expected to dress up' and people generally said 'Fine, great'."

"But we've done Tarzan, mothers and babies, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, men dressing as women and the other way round. I've worked at a school and I loved the kids there, I've got kids, it just made sense. I had the worst costumes though".

Mark joked back: "You wanted the worst costumes, you just wanted the attention."

When Jonathan announced online the time had come to 'explore new horizons', more than 180 people reacted to the news with shock, sadness and congratulations. Mark said "It got me a bit, it pulled at my heart...", while Jonathan said he had been tearful after reading the kind things written in response.

Mark has high hopes for Mr Felton, who would now be running the business solo after 19 years there.

"He's keen, and he's a good man. We can't say enough about him, and even though he's got a lot on his plate he'll do great. We thank everyone for their custom and support over the years, and now Andrew and his team would love that continued support."

Jonathan agreed: "He's clued up, and he'll be able to take it to the next step."

The pair's next steps are unclear. Mark considers a gardening career, Jonathan thinks it is too soon to say. Both are decided: not food.

Mark concludes: "We will miss the customers, though", and his husband can't help but agree.

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