Ches’s Famous Fish and Chips was established in 1951, by Ches Barbour. From its humble beginnings to today, with seven locations across “The Rock”, Ches’s attention to quality has never wavered.
Now, with a second generation at the helm, this family-run chain of restaurants proudly serves up a real downhome Newfoundland experience, in every way – from the mouth-watering quality food on its menu, to a warm Newfoundland welcome when visitors walk through the door.
Back in the fifties, there was no lack of fishermen in St. John’s, Newfoundland, nor was there a lack of fish and chip joints. But rather than flow with the tide, Ches Barbour chose to give his own twist to what some locals consider to be a food staple.
From day one, Ches Barbour was no stranger to hard work. His days consisted of getting up at the crack of dawn and heading out to sea. “Dad would get up in the morning and get aboard his little boat that he kept down in the harbour. He would go out through the narrows, and catch his fish for the day,” explains Kathy Barbour, Co-owner of Ches’s Famous Fish and Chips and daughter of its founder.
After catching what he needed for the day, he would return to dry land in time to sell some of his catch at the market downtown. After that, about mid-morning, he would make his way to the restaurant in time to serve a lunch-hour crowd some of his homemade fish and chips. Not until late in the evening would he close up shop, go home and go to bed. And the following morning, he would do it all over again.
Ches and his wife Betty opened what was initially a snack bar in October 1951, and worked side by side; first on Harvey Road, in a small place that they rented, where they lived in the basement. Later, on Freshwater Road, in a building they purchased in 1958, where they also lived and raised a family.
Home was an apartment over top of the eatery, and as their children grew so did their business. “We literally grew up in the restaurant. Our parents used to put an old-fashioned wooden Pepsi box by the fryer so Bob (my brother) could reach to cook some fish. They would also put one right by the grill and let me make burgers,” explains Kathy. “It was an interesting life. You learn a lot about the workings of a business and what it takes to make it succeed when you grow up that way.”
At the age of 45, Ches Barbour retired due to a heart condition, and his wife joined him in retirement shortly thereafter when their son Bob took over the running of the restaurant. Today, daughter Kathy oversees management and administration of the business, while Bob has semi-retired.
This year, Ches’s Famous Fish and Chips celebrates its 65th anniversary, and the Barbour family could not be any prouder of the business and reputation that their father built. “We threw a huge party on our 40th, 50th, and 60th anniversaries and we’ll throw another on our 70th where we rent a place and invite a lot of past employees and older customers. For our 65th, however, I have something different in mind – but it’s a secret,” laughs Kathy.
Following in its founder’s generous footsteps, Ches’s Famous Fish and Chips has been supporting the Newfoundland chapter of Candlelighters – a charity that supports children with cancer and their families, for 15 years now.
“We’ve always done charity work, but at one point, we went looking for something that was unique, something that didn’t have a lot of money coming in and wasn’t really well known,” says Kathy. “We used to donate money from the sale of onion rings, but ten years ago, we started having an annual party called a Night of Delight where there is a dessert auction and a live auction, and we cover the cost of all the food and the band.” Both the Candlelighters and Ches’s put a lot of work into the event, and in total, the Night of Delight has raised approximately $450,000 to date.
Always quality driven, at Ches’s Famous Fish and Chips, they believe that it’s important to put out a good end product, and that in order to do that you must first begin with good raw products. “We use fresh potatoes which are cut right on location where they are served. We also use fresh fish whenever we can,” explains Kathy. “When it’s not available, we use frozen fish, but we try to get the best frozen fish we can possibly get. We go to processors that we know, where the fish is often hand-picked for us before freezing.”
Ches Barbour believed that fish was worthy of the best treatment possible. “Dad was the first person to cut the bones out of the fish. At that time, everyone else was serving the fish with the bone in, so customers had to pick it out themselves,” explains Kathy. “As far as I know, he was also the first person in the area to peel the skin off of the potatoes. So we’ve always served a clean potato.”
Ches’s Famous Fish and Chips eatery continues to be family-run, and now includes a third generation – granddaughters Vicki, Jennifer and Kandice, who work in various capacities within the business.
Of course, with this new generation, marketing for the restaurant has evolved. “Right now, we’re putting a big push on social media and running a lot of contests,” says Vicki Barbour, Marketing and Communications Specialist. “People like to eat Ches’s and we like to give it away.”
There are also plans to incorporate more video to highlight the quality and the way that Ches’s food is sourced and prepared. “That’s something that I’m really passionate about,” says Vicki. “I want people to know that the food they’re eating really is the best food that we can get.”
With its late hours of operation (open until 2-3am), Ches’s Famous Fish and Chips is also very popular with the late-night crowds. “When we were younger and we’d go out late at night, I would get aboard a taxi cab and ask the driver to take me somewhere for something to eat and every time, I was brought to my own restaurant,” laughs Kathy.
Its popularity isn’t limited to the locals either; tourists love eating there too. “We have a certificate that we give to all tourists and newcomers to Ches’s that states that they’ve tasted the finest fish and chips in Newfoundland. We have our server sign it and we put their name on it, and people get a big kick out of that,” explains Vicki.
Quality food and service remain important ingredients in Ches’s success, but it’s the atmosphere that really sets it apart. Staff is treated like family, and customers are treated like friends who have dropped by. “We’ve always said that coming to Ches’s is an experience,” says Kathy. “The food is part of it, but the staff and the way they treat you is what makes it like visiting a real Newfoundland family.”
Presently, the Barbours fully own three restaurants which include those on Topsoil Road, Mount Pearl and the Freshwater Road location – their flagship store and the place where Ches Barbour’s children grew up. “My office used to be Mom and Dad’s bedroom. And the boardroom was once our dining room,” explains Kathy.
The family also owns part of the Highland Drive and Kenmount Drive locations, having partnered up with Wayne Mullaly and Sylvia Emberly. “Sylvia went to work with us when she was 17 years old and she’s still with us now,” says Kathy. And the family also owns part of the Gander location, having partnered up with Bonnie and Joe Mayo.
The family is incredibly proud of all these accomplishments, but what’s gotten them really excited lately is the success of their franchise – the Carbonear location. “Our franchise is going well so we want to grow that part of the business. We would really like more franchises, both in Newfoundland and in the Maritimes,” explains Kathy. “We want to carry on my father’s name.”
With sights set high on expanding to another province with additional franchises of Ches’s Famour Fish and Chips, the Barbours look forward to introducing their special family recipe and the restaurant’s signature downhome experience to a whole new batch of hungry customers.