Miranda Jessop reels in Stuart Sandys, owner of Sandys Fishmongers and finds out more about his fishy business
As I walk into Sandys Fishmongers, the unmistakable aroma of fresh fish surrounds me and I find Stuart Sandys in his element, helping a customer to choose from the mouthwatering displays of succulent fish and cascades of juicy prawns, crabs, oysters and mussels. On the wall behind the counter, the company slogan, 'Where only the best is good enough' is emblazoned in large blue letters for all to see, alongside a cartoon picture of a fish.
Stuart Sandys' parents opened their first shop in Whitton in 1977. "Both my grandparents were fishmongers and my father; Ray worked for Mac Fisheries before deciding to open his own shop." In 1989, his parents also bought an existing fishmongers in Twickenham, renaming it Sandys. The King Street branch quickly became the mainstay of the business, and the shop in Whitton was sold so they could concentrate their efforts on Twickenham.
Stuart, now aged 42, first started in Sandys as a Saturday boy at the age of thirteen and has been full-time in the shop ever since he left school. Stuart worked alongside his father for many years until Ray retired in 2005. "We always worked well together. I was more logistics while Dad was front of house." For the past ten years, Stuart has run the business himself, supported by his team of eight staff. His gruelling routine means that he is regularly up at 2 am to go to Billingsgate or Smithfield Markets before opening the shop ahead of the day's trading.
Although Sandys is first and foremost a fishmonger, the shop has always sold poultry and game. Over the years, the range has extended further, and there is now also a wide selection of delicious cheeses, groceries and homemade produce. Christmas Eve in Twickenham wouldn't be the same without the sight of people queuing outside Sandys for their turkeys. But the work doesn't stop there for Stuart. "We always open on Christmas Day and Boxing Day so customers can pick up their seafood platters," explains Stuart. "On Christmas morning, I get up at 3 am to start preparing the salmon and seafood, and there is such a great atmosphere when the customers start coming in. I've made that my Christmas now and I just love it."
Over the years, Sandys has become known, not just for its appetising produce, but also for its colourful flower arrangements outside the entrance. Controversy flared up last year when the council asked Stuart to move the floral displays, citing them as a tripping hazard. With the support of the local community, which included a petition and a lively facebook campaign, a compromise with the council was reached; the flowers could stay as long as they were moved back by two feet. Stuart was touched by the support of his loyal clientele, "We are so blessed with our customers. They are cracking, and that's really what makes our job so worthwhile."
As well as continuing with his father's ethos that 'only the best is good enough', it is obvious that Stuart is completely dedicated to his trade and always puts his customers first. With his rigorous regime of early mornings and the shop only staying closed on Bank Holiday Mondays, I wonder when Stuart actually manages to take any time off. "I find holidays too stressful and I try to avoid them," he laughs before adding, "My grandfather and my father always used to say, 'If you're counting how many hours you're doing, you're in the wrong job'." Clearly Stuart Sandys is in the right job; he is a good catch and the people of Twickenham are very lucky to have him as their local fishmonger.
The order book for Christmas opens November 1st. Bespoke platters can be ordered and picked up on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. A wide range of fresh meat and copas bronze free-range turkeys are available to order and buy in the shop.
Late opening December 23rd 10 pm
Don't miss the reindeer who are joining their friends the penguins, the polar bears and Stuart at Sandys this Christmas!
Sandys Fishmongers 56 King Street Twickenham
020 8892 5788 www.sandysfish.net