Queues for the 'world's best' fish suppers leave traders with a chip on their shoulders

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The North Yorkshire chippy had, Stein enthused, "opened my eyes to how good a chip shop could be". Thousands trekked to Whitby in search of the same culinary enlightenment.

But the Magpie, which has also earned a mention in dispatches from film director-cum-restaurant critic Michael Winner, has become so popular that it is now facing legal action over its queues.

Neighbouring traders say the hordes are obscuring the fronts of their shops, causing a drop in business. On occasion, up to 100 people have stood in a line stretching from the front door, down the 10 steps outside and along the pavement.

A recent decision to provide a takeaway service only exacerbated the problem and the owner, Ian Robson, is facing a court battle for obstructing the highway after neighbours lodged a formal protest with North Yorkshire County Council.

Herbert Tindall, the Conservative chairman of the council's Yorkshire coast and moors northern area committee, which is handling the complaint, said: "It is a pity the Magpie has found itself in this position because of its own success. We do not want to be dictatorial, but we are looking into it. The Magpie Café is famous. It really has put Whitby on the map, and people travel from far and wide to come here because of it."

Paul Sheppard, the area traffic manager, said: "The owner has tried to improve the situation by removing a boundary wall, but that was unsuccessful. It has been exacerbated by planning permission for a hot food takeaway - we now have two queues from the same place."

Officials are considering several solutions, including restricting the length of the queue, a booking or ticketing system and widening the existing narrow pavements. It could also take legal action for obstruction.

Mr Robson, who has worked at the 130-seat Magpie Café since 1979, rejected a booking or ticket system, pointing out that at the height of the season it served more than a thousand people a day. "There have been queues outside the Magpie for as long as I can remember," he said. "We believe it is people's right to stand in the street if they wish.

"We don't ever tell anyone to queue. People queue of their own accord. We moved the wall at our own expense and the council did have the opportunity to widen the pavement when they were doing new paving outside. I can't really see anything else we can do. I can't tell people not to queue."

Restaurant's recipe for success

* The Magpie Café receives 30kg of fish every morning.

* The restaurant has used the same suppliers for the last 15 years. Potatoes are delivered from Ripon, North Yorkshire.

* The fish is fried in a special beef dripping.

* The same family has run the restaurant for over 50 years."There's no secret ingredient," says owner Ian Robson. "We just find the freshest seafood and have very good chefs to serve it."