“We’re here to carry on a tradition,” says Adam Papa, looking proudly around his Weston-super-Mare fish and chip shop. The takeout and restaurant are still busy 30 years after it opened and he is quick to tell me why.
“Fish and chips should be traditional – there are so many different fads, but why change things?
“You want fish and chips to taste the same as when you first ate it as a little kid, you want the same experience. You can’t modernize fish and chips, it’s one of our classic dishes.
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A few days before interviewing Adam – whom many simply call “Dad” – I ate at the restaurant. In the timeless back room with walls lined with autographed celebrity photographs, I enjoyed a plate of cod and fries as good as any I’ve tasted.
The cod was thick and juicy under the thin layer of golden batter. The fries had been cut by hand and were smoking inside, with crispy edges, the curry sauce served in an old fashioned metal sauce pitcher.
So what are the secrets to the perfect fish and chips? Adam says it’s all about raw materials.
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“Ingredients are everything. The fish is fresh and comes either from Scotland or from the south coast depending on the market and the price of the day.
“The plaice, the cod, the haddock, it’s very good quality and everything is sustainable. We use Maris Piper potatoes which we turn into fries on site every day.
“We cook it at a very high temperature and we use pure vegetable oil. But the recipe for the dough is top secret – I never reveal it.
“The batter is light and thin, which is essential because we want the fish to cook together with the fish rather than separately. What you get is a premium fish fillet with a very thin layer of crispy batter – you want to be able to taste the fish and not just have a thick layer of batter.
During my lunch at Papa’s, I couldn’t help but stare at the walls of familiar faces who went to the restaurant and then provided autographed photos.
Many of these celebrity patrons walked into Papa’s during their appearance at the nearby Playhouse Theater or were in town for filming.
Next to my table were photos of Irish comedian Jimmy Cricket, Only Fools and Horses star David Jason, and comedian Sean Lock, who died last year.
Adam says: “The celebrities are all so lovely and I only put their pictures up because they’ve helped out with all the charity fundraisers we do. Basically, you have to pay to get on the wall!
“They will come and get their fish and chips and I will pay them a few pounds for charity and they all help. The money goes to the charities we support at the time, whether it’s CLIC, the British Heart Foundation or the local hospice.
“Sean Lock was a regular customer and he was a lovely man. He picked up his fish and chips every time he did a show in town and had some good banter with me and the staff.
Like all small businesses, Papa’s has faced a tough few years with the pandemic, but Adam points out that he was luckier than many because he was able to open takeout unlike many hospitality venues. He is also grateful for the support of the locals.
“We have had incredible support from our regular customers, they have supported us for 30 years. We also had tremendous support after the pandemic.
“That doesn’t mean it was easy. We were really limited in how we could operate as a food service establishment and restaurant, but serving takeout was a lifesaver.
Although Adam opened Papa’s in Weston 30 years ago, the business predates that. Adam’s father, Phodios, started the first Papa’s in Kent in 1966 and ran others across the UK.
Phodios died in 2006 but Adam is continuing his father’s legacy and his own son, Dagi, recently joined the family business after working in finance in London.
Adam says: “My father came from Cyprus to the UK when he was around 11 years old. His older brother was already here and he wanted to study in the UK.
“His brother and wife brought him up in London and then my dad worked in Brick Lane and Portobello Market. He became a telecommunications engineer and actually worked on the post office tower – he was the an early engineer on the project and basically ran the show.
“He met my mum in the Midlands and decided he wanted to start his own business and then opened a greengrocer in Birmingham in 1958. He then moved to Kent where he had two other older brothers and they started opening businesses together – hotels, ice cream parlors, souvenir shops – and then formed Papa’s in 1966.”
Adam moved to Weston 31 years ago when he met his wife, who is from the city, then decided to open a branch of Papa’s in Waterloo Street. He is particularly proud that many of his customers still return after three decades.
“We have multiple generations now – we have grandparents with their children now bringing their children with them. It’s amazing how it’s been in 30 years and it’s been an amazing journey.
“I like to feel like we’re a big part of Weston – people can take a nice walk along the promenade or the pier and then buy fish and chips at Papa’s. It’s the whole package and part of the Weston experience.
“My father was instrumental and influential in our lives. He had strong principles, worked hard and told me to be honest with the product you serve.
“He said giving people the best quality possible is paramount. You give them the best service and you keep your shop spotless.
“We have a great team at Papa’s and they share the same passion. They love and respect their workplace and it shows and is part of Papa’s success and longevity.
“Some of my staff have been with me since day one. I couldn’t do this without Sean, Pui, Chris, Sheila, Mo, Desana, Julia, Matheus and now my son, Dagi.
And despite all the celebrity customers lining up for their cod and fries, Adam says it’s more about the people of Weston who come back week after week, year after year.
“We win many awards and accolades, but we don’t like to blow our own trumpet – the fact that we have returning customers after 30 years is the best recognition for what we do.
“Yes, we have a lot of celebrities and that’s great, but it’s our regulars that matter the most because they’re the most loyal, interesting and kind people and we learn so much from them, especially our older customers, who are worthy and classy people.
“My dad was humble, hardworking and had a strong work ethic of putting in the work and doing his best.
“He always said never think you’re above or below anyone – I think that’s a good philosophy. That and looking after your staff well.
“I like to think my dad would be proud that we’ve been going there for 30 years. Now we just want to take Papa’s to the next generation.
Papa’s, 20 Waterloo Street, Weston-super-Mare, BS23 1LN. Tel: 01934 626565. papasukltd.com
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