Hailed by Santa Barbarans and Brits alike as the only authentic English cuisine this side of the Atlantic, Mac’s Fish N Chips is well known and loved for its food and friendly atmosphere. Owned by Grant and Kate MacNaughton, its spot on lower State Street is now world famous as it was featured on a recent Monday on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” hosted by Guy Fieri. In between serving the crowds, Grant shared his take on stealing the spotlight, sustainable seafood, and secret menu options.
What do you miss most about the U.K.? It’s easy to say family, which is very true especially having my two kids, but also the pubs, the real proper bar culture is fantastic. Sundays just wake up, go to the bar, get drunk, watch three football matches and there’s no stigma behind it…But Santa Barbara is a really welcoming place so it has been easy integrating ourselves. Customers seem like old friends outside the shop and it’s good fun to feel welcome, it’s refreshing.
What is your favorite beer to drink with fish and chips? Boddingtons. We import it from England and it’s a super creamy beer. Super velvety just delicious, like a light version of Guinness.
Do you have a favorite dish on the menu? Fish and chips. I can’t go half a day without them. That being said, our savory pies are like our hidden secret. People come in and have fish and chips and then after about five times they’re like “What else do you have?” and then they’ll start having the savory pies. People go crazy for them. Haggis is also surprisingly popular. I’d say Haggis customers are 50/50. Half of them are Brits who want to eat something from back home and the other half are just adventurous eaters—they want to try something different and they either hate it or they love it. Most of the West coast customers had never even seen [savory pies] before having them here. On the menu it says exactly what’s in it and if you’ve ever eaten a hot dog you’ve eaten a whole heaps worse than haggis.
What is the best compliment you have ever received about your cooking? Not words, not anything, just giving me a hug. I could’ve sworn there was a tear in her eye! There’s been a few of them! The hug was probably my favorite because for any Brit, having fish and chips out of the U.K., there’s a huge level of skepticism before they even take a bite. But we kinda drag people in here because it looks right, it smells right–if I’m here, it sounds right, so all these things are leading up and they have a set of questions like, “Are they real chips or are they fries?” “Do you have mashed peas?” “Do you have curry sauce?” and if you can finally tick off all these questions you’ll get them to order, and then they’ll give you a hug.
Were you nervous to meet the Food Network host Guy Fieri? I was nervous because it is a program that we love. We’ve got a few famous people through here but because we’re English I don’t always recognize them. But with Guy I recognize who he is and how passionate he is about food. Deep down we were hoping he would really like the food, he pretty much tried everything on the menu and seemed to deeply enjoy it, so after that it was easy to relax. He was a lovely fellow to have around. Filming was more thrilling than anything else. It was brilliant.
You’re a sustainable seafood program member, how does this enhance your business?
That’s a big thing for us, it’s not just coincidence that everything we use is sustainable. We work pretty closely with the sustainable seafood guys and whenever something new goes on the menu we consult them and the Monterey Bay Aquarium guide. At the minute we’re going through five hundred pounds of cod per week so we alone feel like were depleting the sea a wee bit! But we are using sustainable clams in the chowder, sustainable cod, and we get involved in a lot of projects locally, too. It’s just the right thing to do. I feel like there are two things that we could easily cause a lot of waste: one, the kind of fish we use and two, the amount of waste we produce. We’re part of the S.B. Compostable and the Food Scraps program and pay extra for all our packaging so we can compost about 80 percent of our trash, recycle 10 percent, and throw away 10 percent. We don’t want to be a blight on society
If you could pick one thing for your customers to know about you, what would it be?
A lot of people think we just come here and throw things in the fryer five minutes before we open. I’d want them to know just how much prep goes into the food. It’s a combination of how early we get here in the morning and how much we care. We purposely source wild Alaskan cod because it’s a great product—and of course because it’s sustainable—but it’s four to five times the price of fish that other people sell. We care, we really do care about the food that goes out, we take it super seriously. We try and put every meal out within like 5-10 minutes but the prep behind it could be a two- to three-day process. We really do appreciate business and we take any type of feedback to heart. We just want people to experience and love the food as much as we do.