Sunday, 26 February 2017

Chips - my Whitwick & Surrounding Areas Community Voice column

A couple of weeks ago I went to pick my daughter up from her dance class. The studio is about a mile from our house and as she left the building on this particular cold, crisp night she noticed that my car was missing.

“How are going to get home?” she asked with a somewhat perturbed look on her face.

“I’ve got a special treat for you,” was my reply “we’re walking.”

Now to the vast majority of 12 year olds walking for pleasure is something of an alien experience but I had a trick up my sleeve. We were going to relive one of my most vivid childhood memories, we were going to stop for chips en route and walk home devouring them, their heat warming our hands as our cheeks froze, the smell of salt and vinegar tickling our nostrils and ever so slightly burning our lips.

I had travelled back thirty years, only this time I was the parent, what an amazing feeling to be making memories from the simplest of pleasures.

When I was growing up my mum used to drag me in tow to her ‘Ladies Bright Hour’ meeting every Wednesday night at Thringstone Methodist Chapel the bribe would be that if I was good I would get to visit Ruby’s for my own portion of open chips for the way home.

By my childhood of course the eponymous Ruby had retired and her shop had been purchased by a young Cypriot couple, Michael and Sonia Demetriou. Today, forty years later, they are still at the shop every bit as much a fixture of village life as Ruby had been in her era.

I went to catch up with the couple who first moved in to start their new lives taking over the long established business on 3rd October 1977, it must have been a daunting prospect considering Sonia had only given birth to their eldest of what eventually turned out to be five children just two weeks earlier.

“Things were certainly different then,” they tell me. “Chips were 14 pence, a fish was just 17p.”

Of course the way that we live our lives has forced changes to the business too. I reminisce about the times as a young man I could stagger out of The Queens Head at nearly midnight and still get some supper on a Friday night.

Michael smiles “Our busiest times used to be late at night when people were coming out of the pubs, but nowadays everybody seems to come at tea time and things drop off after 8.00.”

In the early 1990’s Michael and Sonia took a sabbatical returning to Cyprus for 4 years whilst the shop was run by Sonia’s brother, Clem.  On their return in 1995 the couple planned some major changes to the business, the menu saw the addition of the now legendary doner kebabs and southern fried chicken but perhaps most notably the fa├žade of the shop changed.

An extension brought with it neon signage, now familiar throughout North West Leicestershire and perhaps most notably glorious summer flower displays and at Christmas festive illuminations that are the pride of the village.

But through it all the heart of the business doesn’t change. Fish and chips are still produced in the same gleaming fryers Ruby used in her time. Michael and Sonia, now ably assisted by their son, are very proud of their five star hygiene rating. The quality remains as high as ever, the portions as generous, and you’ll still hear Sonia’s catchphrase “You wanna bag?” as she passes food over the counter to you with a warm smile.

I ask about retirement, their son Andy interjects “I’ll retire before my parents do!”

Michael agrees, the Demetriou’s and this Thringstone institution are planning on sticking around for a long time to come.

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