Much-loved mobile chip van opens new shop on the Norfolk Broads
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
There are two reasons you might know Nippy Chippy has come to town. One is that the school mums’ What’s App group starts pinging with reminders and plans of action as to where to pitch a spot for an evening on the social club playing field. The other? You’ll see big queues forming as those living in rural communities look to get their regular fish and chip fix.
There’s a lot of love for this mobile chip van, which has tirelessly served Norfolk’s communities over the last two years. Now, at the height of its success, it’s taking its good name to a new and permanent premises on the Norfolk Broads. Don’t worry, though, the van is still very much staying on the road.
Jon Heathcote and his wife Nicola bought the Nippy Chippy van at the start of the pandemic, having run the Dave’s chippy in Sheringham for a number of years. “It got tougher and tougher as the seasons went on,” explains Jon. “As Covid hit, my landlord gave me the opportunity to come out of it [the shop] because at that point we didn’t know when restaurants were going to be open again. He was anxious and so was I, so we bought the van.”
This all happened in May 2020, with many in hospitality having to work around the restrictions imposed at the time. “It was the way things were going, and people were going mad for services like ours because it was Covid-friendly, but we didn’t set up the van with the intention of doing it [running a mobile chip shop] only through the pandemic,” explains Jon. “It was our intention to do it as a new way of running the business and serving the communities which haven’t got shops.”
Even though many businesses offering takeaways were incredibly busy, Jon and Nicola were still surprised at the way Nippy Chippy boomed. “It took off so much more than we had anticipated,” he says. “We had a van made which had three pans and we still could do with one more because of the demand we get. It’s tremendous.”
Having decided just two years ago that a shop wasn’t meant to be, an offer out of the blue to take over the premises on Bridge Road in Potter Heigham was one that was too good for the family to pass up. The new owner wanted to keep the location as a chip shop and, reputation preceding him, Jon was given the opportunity to bring the good name Nippy back to the high street.
“They heard how busy we were, and about our reputation, so I thought I’d give it a go,” he laughs. But, as it’s impossible to be in two places at once, he’s handed the golden baton of running the shop (which has been shut since September) on to daughter Paige and her boyfriend Liam.
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“We want people to know that, one, it’s us, and, two, it’s open again," says Jon, adding that so far the couple have been getting rave reviews.
We’re in the middle of a cost of living crisis, but the Heathcotes very much wanted to try this new venture in a new location. “Even though at the moment everything's getting more expensive, I think we offer a reasonably-priced meal for what you get,” says Jon, talking of Nippy Chippy's offerings.
“The price of fish is rocketing, fat is going up all the time, it’s not a great time to start a shop. But if you think at some places you’d pay £8 for a jacket potato, at least that will get you a nice plate of fish and chips, peas or curry for the same price here.”
And they're hoping their loyal customers will continue to visit them across the county in the van and at their new home on the Broads.
At the heart of the business is very much this family’s dedication to serving Norfolk’s rural communities...though they’re careful not to tread on any toes. “I never intended to have a van and go to someone’s doorstep where there are already shops because I don’t think that’s really fair, so we just chose villages that don’t have any shops,” Jon explains.
“We’re not in direct competition. I’d never go to Rackheath where there’s Jason’s, or Wroxham where there’s Ken’s. We go to villages where there are older people, or those who can’t drive. It helps everyone."
Jon says the van still gets a massive reaction wherever it goes. Locations include The Heathlands Social Club and Community Centre in Blofield Heath, Fleggburgh Village Hall, Salhouse Playing Field and The Walled Garden in Little Plumstead. In fact, many families make the van’s presence into a social occasion. While the kids play, parents can eat, drink and chat from the comfort of their camping chairs.
And even 34 years after he started working in fish and chips (Jon’s family ran the chip shop in Lingwood where he began aged 15) he still loves his job, which also sees the van booked at private events such as weddings and birthday parties. “It’s all I’ve ever done!” he laughs.
Find the Nippy Chippy on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nippychippynorfolk