DESPITE only opening its doors three months ago, Emma’s Chip Ahoy on Rathlin Island has battered the opposition to be crowned Newcomer of the Year at the Northern Ireland Fish and Chip Awards.
Chip Ahoy - owned by islander Emma McFaul - cemented its reputation as the plaice to drop anchor for a tasty meal at the glittering awards ceremony in Tullyglass House Hotel, Ballymoney on Sunday 4 September.
Its unbeatable fresh produce and scrumptious specials - such as crab burgers and mackerel cakes - have been lapped up by visitors to the island since it opened in June.
And the efforts of Emma haven’t gone unnoticed beyond the island, with her chip shop pipping rivals from across Northern Ireland to the prestigious gong.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” she told the Times.
“I’ve been getting a lot of messages of congratulations but I think it will take another week or so before it really hits home.
“People have been coming in from all over since I opened.
“Last week a couple from Cheshire were in and they were lovely. They sent me an email saying it was the best fish and chips they ever had and they would be back again.
“From day one the support has been fantastic, it really has.”
Emma said her sister initially threw Chip Ahoy’s hat into the ring for the award.
“It was my sister Siobhan who started it,” said Emma.
“She put it on my Facebook page but I never paid much attention to it then all my friends said they were voting.
“About a week beforehand I got a phone call to say we’d been shortlisted. I couldn’t believe it.
“So then I printed forms out for the shop and the support was overwhelming, everyone was wanting to fill in a form so it was fantastic.”
Asked what makes Chip Ahoy tower above its mainland rivals Emma replied:
“The fresh fish sets us apart.
“It’s all fresh, we don’t use it past the second day.
“It’s all caught local and I use home made batter.
“The pan fried mackerel goes down very well and crab burgers and I’ve started doing mackerel cakes which are proving popular too.”
Emma has been involved in catering for several years and has worked in the Radisson Hotel in Limavady, Bayview Hotel in Portballintrae, London, Guernsey and ran the restaurant in Ma Kellys, Ballymoney for 18 months.
“I was working my way up but I just wasn’t happy and wanted to come back home,” she said.
“I said to myself if I wanted to come back home I would have to do something.
“I ran a wee chip van at the house for six years and because it was going so well and was so well supported I thought I would build something bigger.
“The local support has been overwhelming and without great friends and family and the local community it wouldn’t have worked out as well for me as it has.”
Traditionally most businesses on the island shut up shop for the winter months but Emma says she will gauge the community’s feelings before deciding what to do.
“I’m going to do a survey to see what times the community wants me open,” she said.
“I’m going to give it a go see how it works out. If local people want it open a few days a week then that’s what we will aim for.”
Emma added: “My parents have been a great support and a big thanks to my mother and father Mary and Neil.” Chip Ahoy is having an official opening this Sunday.
REPORT: CHRIS KILPATRICK