Champion of local produce takes 'big ticket' win

Company of the Year and Small Medium Enterprise of the Year are always two of the most hotly contested categories at Isle of Man Newspapers’ Awards for Excellence. Julie Blackburn talks to last year’s winners about the experience of entering and about how to produce a lively submission which grabs the judges’ attention.

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Company of the Year is undoubtedly the ‘big ticket category’ at the Awards, the one every business employing more than 30 people would love to win. Last year it wasn’t, as you might have expected, one of high profile finances sector or egaming companies that triumphed, but one which you might not even have heard of: Rock Food Concepts.

Whilst you may might know the name, you will undoubtedly have heard of the establishments the company operates: Little Fish Café, bath & bottle and 14North.

Phil Taylor, owner of Rock Food Concepts, says he was also surprised by the result:

‘It was pretty cool: I was expecting it to be a big finance company as well to be honest. I just felt really honoured to have been shortlisted for the Awards and to actually win it on the night was fantastic.

‘And to have the staff with me and to be able to take them up on stage and for them to get that recognition for what has been a journey for eight years now was a fantastic feeling and we were very surprised.’

When it came to writing the entry submission Phil says:

‘It wrote itself: I found it very easy to write and I included images in my submission, photos of the restaurant and photos of the food. I think they probably had quite a powerful connection with the people that were judging it because it made it quite easy for them to connect with us as a business.

‘I had to play to our strengths and I think people have a better understanding of our business and what we do than some of the bigger companies that may be a bit more renowned and recognised

‘I think that’s probably what got us over the line in the eyes of the judges.’

One of the main criteria for the Awards judges is supporting the local economy and Phil is a well-known champion of local produce. He was one of the first on the island to regularly name the local growers and producers where the ingredients were sourced on his menus.

He says: ‘That’s always been extremely important to me, to support local buy local and it’s for many reasons: it’s fresher, it’s less a food miles and it’s often better quality but you’re also putting pounds back into the Manx economy and hopefully we can all prosper together.

Phil is continuing the theme with his new venture, Little Fish at The Bay, in Port Erin, which opened this week. This, he says will have ‘less seafood-based and less of a café feel, more of a gastropub feel to it’.

He adds: ‘At the new restaurant we’re actually going out and foraging a lot of ingredients for the menu. The menu will reflect the seasons and what’s available and we want to source as much as we can in the south of the island.

‘We’ve been local in the past and now we’re going “hyper local”!’

Asked whether he would encourage others to enter their businesses into the Awards for Excellence Phil says:

‘It’s worth anyone entering into the process: it’s a great night out, win or lose, and anything can happen.’