Harry Ramsden's is a fast food restaurant chain based in the United Kingdom which offers fish and chips and assorted themed dishes. The business has 45 owned and franchised outlets throughout the UK and Ireland and serves around four million meals annually.
Harry Ramsden's website claims the business to be "Britain's longest established restaurant chain".
The business was started by Harry Ramsden (10 Feb 1888–1963) in 1928 in a wooden hut in White Cross, Guiseley, West Yorkshire, northern England. Three years later he moved into a new premises, complete with fitted carpets, oak panelled walls, and chandeliers. The original hut still stands on the same site adjacent to the main restaurant, which once held the Guinness World Record for the largest fish and chip shop in the world, seating 250 people, serving nearly a million customers a year. Harry Corbett of Sooty fame was a nephew of Harry Ramsden and played the piano in his uncle's original restaurant.
In 1954, the business was sold to Harry Ramsden's long term business partner Eddie Stokes for a large sum of GB£37,500, subsequently selling in 1965 to Essex-based Associated Fisheries.
In 1988, the company, which still comprised the original Guiseley fish and chips premises, was bought by Merryweathers, led by Chairmen John Barnes and Richard Richardson. Barnes and Richardson led the transition of the business from a single restaurant in Yorkshire to a world-famous brand.
In 1989, following a decision by their bank to withdraw funding, the management floated the company on the London Stock exchange. The public offer was over-subscribed by two and a half times. The next ten years saw rapid expansion throughout the UK and worldwide through company owned and franchised restaurants. Worldwide locations in Hong Kong, Australia, Epcot and Saudi Arabia added to the growing stature as an international brand.
A franchise deal with Granada motorway services to develop kiosk-style units ultimately led to Granada Ltd buying Harry Ramsden's for GB£20 million in October 1999. When acquired by Granada Harry Ramsden's comprised four company owned restaurants, twenty five franchises and sixteen Henry Higgins units. Granada expanded Harry Ramsden's into motorway locations. Some franchise territories infringed onto motorways so Granada bought the franchises back. In 2000, Compass merged with Granada. Under Compass, the business was expanded into motorway service station kiosks, contract catering locations such as schools, Post Office canteens, Little Chef, Butlins, and Haven Holidays.
By April 2006, Compass had spun off its motorway service stations to Moto bought by Macquarie Bank of Sydney, Australia. Its specialist airports and railways division SSP was sold for GB£1,822 million to EQT Partners of Sweden (who also own Findus). Harry Ramsden's was sold with the SSP business.
Under the early years of SSP ownership, the business had to compete with other SSP brands for investment.
In 2008, SSP recruited industry turnaround specialist Chris Sullivan as Managing Director. During 2009, Sullivan led a radical revision of the food on offer improving quality, reducing wait times and removing menu items which were more pub-restaurant than chip shop. The strategy delivered a marked improvement in sales in the food court and seaside restaurant business of Harry Ramsden's, prompting parent company SSP to market the business for sale.
On 19 January 2010, SSP sold Harry Ramsden's to Boparan Ventures Limited. BVL is the private investment vehicle of Ranjit Boparan.
BVL planned to open another 100 units in the next five years and create 600 new jobs.
On 29 November 2011, it was announced that the original Harry Ramsden's restaurant in Guiseley, Leeds, would close amid statements from the owners that it was losing money and that any refurbishment to make it profitable would not be viable. The restaurant closed on Monday 19 December 2011. In February 2012, it was announced that the Guiseley restaurant had been sold to the Wetherby Whaler group. It reopened on 22 May 2012 under the Wetherby Whaler name.
BVL are continuing to invest in the Harry Ramsden's brand, with their Bournemouth branch holding the title for World's Largest Fish and Chip Restaurant, seating 417 diners across its restaurant, cafe and terrace.
In 2010, the chain was the focus of an episode of the Channel 4 television series Undercover Boss. The then-CEO of the company, Marija Simovic, posed as a new starter in a variety of locations – Swindon, Merry Hill Shopping Centre, Blackpool, Southampton and Great Yarmouth – to try to understand why the company was struggling in today's market. At the end of the programme, Simovic promised big changes in a bid to turn around the company's fortunes, along with promoting a number of employees who had impressed her.
Under the name of the brand, Premier Foods sell mushy peas (since April 2006), and Birdseye (since 2012) selling frozen fish.