The Story so Far....
Read more about our ongoing story and the history of our business
BURLY Richard Fowler has often found himself making crucial decisions - and he has regretted the outcome of none of them.
Richard, 40-year-old partner at FR Fowler & Son, the wholesale fishmonger started in 1906 and now major supplier of quality stock to York's top hotels and restaurants, made his first big decision as a Wasps rugby league winger with the first team in the 1980s.
He was asked to tour Russia with the team but turned down the invitation to complete his A level studies.
The next crossroads came when he rejected a lifetime opportunity to work at London's Ritz Hotel as part of his Hotel Catering and Institutional Management course at Leeds Polytechnic in order to help out at the family fish business in Gerard Avenue, York.
He says: " My father, Francis, broke his kneecap while buying on the Scarborough fish quays and I was asked by mother to help. In both cases I was disappointed, but it all turned out for the good."
The result of both these decisions was that the four-generation-old venture flourished and is now in line to take two titles in The Press Business Awards - Family Business Of the Year and Small Business Of The Year.
Richard, who nowadays runs Fowlersof York, often still relies on his parents when it comes to buying quality fish on the east coast. "Nobody knows their stuff like them."
However, since Richard began to apply his knowhow to the firm it has taken on a new course. Where once it was a thriving fish and chip shop with a wholesale outlet, now the increasing demand for the best fish from a growing restaurant and hotel market in the city, has meant that is where the emphasis now lies
In fact Richard has closed the fish and chips shop right next door to his home in Gerard Avenue and leased the premises to Jo Jo's in order to concentrate purely on cementing Fowler's reputation as the best purveyor of fish in the region.
He says: "It's still a tough business. We get up at 4am, visiting ports all around the east coast where we have built up a great relationship with the fishermen and return to York to process the order by morning to meet the daily requirements of more than 150 top restaurants and hotels across North Yorkshire."
Quality is the common theme which has governed the business since it was started by Richard's great grandmother, Agnes Lovely 106 years ago. With the help of her husband, also Richard, she created a small empire of four fish and chip shops in York.
Their daughter, Elsie, married the celebrated professional light heavyweight boxer Frank Fowler who has a record for beating more European champions than any other and when his fighting career was over he joined the business, building the existing premises in Gerard Avenue.
Richard says: "It matters not whether the fish is brill, Dover or lemon sole, turbot, scallop, halibut, skate, seabass, cod or coley, we have always insisted in buying freshest and best quality available."
He also feels it is in everyone's interests as well as his own if the public is educated in what is best. To that end every year he has kicked off the York Food and Drink Festival with a demonstration of how to prepare and cook fish to perfection.
Richard, provides and fillets the fish before an audience and chefs from some of the finest restaurants and hotels in York do the rest. This year, on September 21, the event is switching from the Guildhall to a demonstration area in St Sampson's Square.
He says: "One thing has worked hugely in our favour is the massive growth in York of the hotel and restaurant industry, not just in numbers but also in reputation - an expansion which looks set to continue.
"Our value-added is being able to daily service our customers and regularly to pay attention to any changes they might need, either immediately or in the future and quickly adapt."
The Fowlers are also mindful of the need for conservation. "We only deal with those fisherman who abide strictly by sustainable fishing practices. We need to ensure that fish stocks are always available not just for us, but future generations.
"It's hard. We are dealing with small, family run fishing businesses. But in our favour is the fact that as fleets decline over the years and fewer boats are going to sea, stocks are gradually increasing.
"But there are some countries, like Japan, whose fishing industries consume about $28 million per day and this is something we should keep an eye on internationally because conservation knows no boundaries."
To that end, Richard stays in touch with numerous organisations such as the British Sea Fish Authority and the Marine Stewardship Council.
Expansion? "That's bound to happen so long as North Yorkshire's hospitality sector keeps growing," he says. "We are already looking to extend our fleet and are exploring the expansion of our home delivery service to private buyers."