A FISH and chip shop business is moving the traditional staple of the British diet into a new era.

Bells has opened its fourth restaurant, its third in the Durham area, following a £1.5m conversion of the former GMD car showroom.

But the new 8,500sq ft premises, on Finchale Road, Framwellgate Moor, is a far cry from the humble ‘chippy’ of yesteryear.

The plush, well-appointed, premises features a 90-seat restaurant, complete with quirky décor, including an ice-cream van serving area, a bar and a takeaway.

It has provided work for 20 staff members, immediately, with more to follow, many taken from the ranks of the unemployed and trained in Bells’ Market Place branch.

Owner Graham Kennedy said when fully developed it should also provide a preparation ‘hub’ for all his shops.

Mr Kennedy, who has been in the business for 32 years, said it was the culmination of a six-year drive, expanding the popular Bells’ brand, with new shops in Sunderland Road, Gilesgate, and Teal Farm, Washington.

“It must be one of the biggest fish and chip restaurants in the North-East.

““It’s a one-off, with unique features, like the second-hand ice cream van, and it’s the result of a lot of hard work.

“But, I love what I do, and I enjoy coming to work, so I hope it’s all been worthwhile.”

On day one, his operations manager, Julia Abbott, said the early feedback was, “very positive”.

“I think it’s absolutely beautiful and the customers, so far, seem to like it.”

She thanked the dedicated workforce involved for their efforts over recent months getting the premises into shape for the opening over the festive season.

“I’ve never known a group of guys work so hard just to get it ready in time.”

They were rewarded with a fish and chip night out at the restaurant ahead of the opening, with all 90 seats filled for the first time.

The first customer, nearby resident Ian McCaffery, who was at the head of queue ready for opening time, gave it his approval as he tucked into a healthy portion of cod and chips in the restaurant.

“It’s very nice, very tasty, and I hope it goes well. I’ll probably be a regular customer.”

Another impressed early visitor was retired company director Frank Davison, from nearby Whitesmocks.

“It looks very good and it should prove a good asset for the area.”