Crystal Waters has been a Lowestoft based fishmonger for many years.
They produce their own smoked products, and source local sustainable fish for a very popular stand on Cambridge City Market.
I caught up with Leigh to have a chat with him about his business.
Tell me about the history of your business?
We have been established on the Cambridge market for more than 40 years as a company and have run our own traditional oak smoked smokehouse for 19 of them years. We produce all our own products through our smokehouse on a daily basis. I took over the market nearly 4 years ago now and have seen it go from strength to strength with the continued support of our customers.
Over the years we have served customers from Jamie Oliver to prince Charles and Camilla. We are quite fortunate we are a traditional family run business and our customers love that aspect. Even my children get involved at times and they are only 5 and 7 years old.
Who works in your business?
I am the main face of the Cambridge market but with how things have changed due to the pandemic I now have my father working alongside me 2 days a week. My fiancée is behind our social media keeping on top of that. And finally, I have Archie who is my Saturday boy. He is currently doing his A Levels and wants to pursue a career in photography but really enjoys the work temporarily (he is also supposed to be photographing my wedding this year, fingers crossed for mine and Lucie’s wedding going ahead).
Where do you source your products?
We start our search for the freshest fish close to home. One thing we always say and that we stick by is that a fishmonger should come by the sea, especially a port. Otherwise they are just box handling fish and don’t have the true passion for the product. We start in Lowestoft hearing of the local catch daily from our fisherman, sometimes that can be plaice, cod, wild bass, dover soles and so on.
We then have fisherman we talk to in Scotland, Grimsby and Cornwall to source what we can’t get locally and all the while keeping our food miles down and primarily sticking to UK fish. Certain popular items we have no choice to source elsewhere such as prawns, tuna and swordfish but these are only warm water fish and as you can expect, the North Sea is far from that.
What kind of customers do you have?
Being based where we are, we have a very diverse customer base. It’s great to see the customer base mix in a situation whereas it wouldn’t usually happen. All coming together with a passion for fresh food and cooking.
We serve a lot of academic customers, healthcare professions, lab technicians, students, tourists and even the occasional homeless, they really love their seafood. We love them all as they come with the passion for the fresh produce.
What makes you different from your competitors?
Where do we begin with this one? We love the product we sell and we don’t just sell it, we cook with it so constantly being asked for cooking advice. We are a relatively local company based 200 yards from the beach.
We produce all our own smoked produce. We talk to the fishermen at source, no middlemen or box handlers involved, just people with that passion I keep coming back to. I also started fish mongering when I was 12 years old and have 16 years’ experience doing the things we do, the way we do them.
When COVID19 hit, what were your first thoughts?
Drive to Boston, buy a refrigerated bike. We instantly were panicked our weekly customers would be self-isolated and they were equally concerned they wouldn’t be able to get our fresh fish. So, we set up a local delivery service with the help of Archie (our Saturday boy) delivering the produce while I remained open at the Cambridge market.
This worked very well and was an instant hit. We run this off the back of our text message list we send out on a weekly basis and the customers just let us know what they would like. We were doing this 2 days a week but have now dropped it to just Fish Fridays with the demand for deliveries now falling.
What did you do to change your business?
Apart from the delivery service we were quite fortunate we didn’t have to change too much. Being a food business which already operates to a high level of hygiene we were already ticking most the boxes. We made new taller signs to add information regarding queuing and had placed a more prominent guard between the fish and the customer to deter curious hands.
Have you had any help?
As said before my father has been a big help. While having all the knowledge of a fishmonger and the knife skills due to a life living in a fishing port. he works as he says, “on the tools” (I hate this saying) – he runs his own business as a carpenter, painter and decorator. With the pandemic he didn’t feel comfortable working inside other people’s homes and also found a few customers had postponed work temporarily due to self-isolating.
I asked him to join me to help keep our queue to a minimum at times and he was more than happy to help me out.
What impact have you experienced due to Covid19?
People are cooking from home more. The passion and the love for food and cooking has exploded. A generation of people which didn’t have the time to cook during the week now had more of it due to working from home. This saved people commuting and during work breaks were able to prep dinners. It has created a stronger sense of community and family life, much how I would imagine it used to be in my grandparent’s younger years.
What changes have you experienced during the last 8 weeks?
We are now starting to see more customers in person which after so long was very moving. After not seeing family members and friends after so long you miss the conversations and laughs, and that was just the same for ourselves. The sense of community is much stronger, and everyone is attempting to help anyone they know or love.
Have you seen a difference in the type of customers you serve?
We have noticed our older customers are self-isolating but after a few weeks started to find out we did a delivery service with the fresh wide selection of fish we have always sourced.
How are you feeling about the future of your business?
I am and always have been an optimistic happy person. I can’t see why anything would change now. I took over 4 years ago and looking to change, adapt and move forward. We have plans moving forward to better position ourselves within the market and hopefully with the backing from the council expand our stall to be an even bigger draw for people to come into the city.
Thank you to Leigh for taking the time to have a chat with me.
He can be found on Cambridge Market opposite the Guildhall Wednesday – Saturday 07:30 – 15:00.
If you want to be added to Leigh’s text list, message 07794 947564.. You can get in touch with him via his website: www.onlinefish.co.uk, Facebook: facebook.com/cambridgefish and Instagram: instagram.com/thecambridgefishmonger