Skip to content

Golden-fried legacy: Beloved Burnaby fish and chips restaurant expanding into Vancouver

With two restaurants open for decades now, this local favourite is finally making its way into Vancouver
Cockney Kings, which began serving up fish and chips in North Burnaby back in 1965, is opening its first-ever Vancouver location before the end of summer

When Gregory Dion was 15 years old and took a job at Cockney Kings Fish & Chips in Burnaby, he had no idea that over 20 years later and he'd be the one opening the restaurant's first Vancouver location.

A fixture in North Burnaby since 1965, Cockney Kings has been a staple in the community - and at its neighbouring New West location - for decades, serving up platters of golden-fried fish and chips with tartar sauce and coleslaw to generations of locals. 

Now, over at 1935 Cornwall Ave in Vancouver's beach-side Kitsilano, Dion, his wife, Louise, and their team are in the final stretch before they can open the doors to what is ostensibly the restaurant's first official franchise, with the Dions as the proud owner-operators.

"I finally decided I was ready to go all in on fish and chips," Dion tells V.I.A. by phone.

With credit to his former boss, Daniel Turner, who co-owns the Burnaby and New West restaurants with his wife, Kristi, Dion is excited to make some long-time plans a reality to bring a true London-style fish and chip shop experience to the seaside Vancouver community. 

The Kits Cockney Kings will be a predominantly take-out operation, with 10 seats available for guests to enjoy their meals on-site after ordering at the counter. 

'Man, that would make a great fish and chips shop!'

Dion says that the pandemic enabled Cockney Kings to "fine-tune the workflow to do high-volume take-out," which in turn inspired Dion to consider opening a location of his own that would focus on serving meals to-go for local families, beach-goers, and fish and chips fans. 

"That's when the idea became very real for me," describes Dion, noting that conversations with the Turners began in earnest in early 2021. 

Dion only had one spot in mind for his first Cockney Kings solo venture, which was the empty one-time Flying Wedge spot on Cornwall. The restaurateur says he and his wife would walk past the vacated business on their way to grab bagels at nearby Siegel's and he'd think to himself: "Man, that would make a great fish and chips shop!"

Though the 1939 building wasn't up for lease when it came time for Dion to chase his dream, he managed to find the landlord and strike a deal. It was the only space Dion ever looked at for Vancouver's first Cockney Kings; he's hopeful their long-term lease means the start of a new local fish and chips legacy.

What to expect at the new Vancouver Cockney Kings

Dion says the interior of the new Vancouver shop will retain some of the quirky charms of a classic British chippy while elevating the aesthetic with a contemporary look. For those who grew up giggling over the Cockney Kings' paper placemats printed with snippets of Cockney sayings, Dion says those were largely retired during the pandemic as a waste-saving measure (but are still used for the littlest customers) but the slang will have a presence in the new shop.

The menu at the new Vancouver Cockney Kings will also be exactly the same as its predecessors in Burnaby and New West, with two key exceptions. Firstly, because of the smaller dining room and emphasis on take-out service, they won't be offering an all-you-can-eat option, and, secondly, Dion says they aren't going to put the restaurant's seafood soup on the menu for the time being.

Otherwise, guests can expect to find Cockney Kings fried seafood, like cod, halibut, or salmon, served up in dinner combos or by the piece, with other menu items like fish burgers, fried calamari, and chicken strips - all the classic and contemporary dishes the original restaurants have come to be known for.

Taking a legacy restaurant into its next chapter

Alongside the food comes the welcoming atmosphere many loyal Cockney Kings diners have relied on over the last nearly 60 years.

"For me, it's less about the fish and chips and more about using the food to make people's lives better," explains Dion. 

"We've always tried to make everyone feel at home. I grew up at the restaurant, it's home to me," he adds. "We want the dining experience to be a comfortable one." Dion describes having served customers as kids who he now sees come into the original location with kids of their own. He's also tremendously proud to be part of the kind of business that puts an emphasis on getting to know customers' names and regular orders.

"As we expand we're still very much a family-run, mom-and-pop type place," Dion attests.

Building on a brand like Cockney Kings means working carefully to honour the past while edging the business forward, says Dion. He says he, and the Turners, have a close working relationship, noting they have been instrumental in collaborating with him to open his first location. Dion says Cockney Kings remains very much a family-run business, though the primary family members involved have changed, they all remain in close contact and consultation with the surviving members of the restaurant's founding family.

Len Evans and his wife Joan opened the first Cockney Kings in North Burnaby in 1965. The Evanses ultimately passed the Burnaby location on to their daughter, Lee, and her husband, Norm Ashby, who were Dion's first employers. 

Now Dion is at the forefront of bringing the Cockney Kings legacy into the future. 

What he, his wife, and their staff hope to do at the first Vancouver Cockney Kings is to "set the stage" for the eventual further growth of the business in B.C. Dion teases that with deep roots of his own in the Okanagan, he'd love to get a Cockney Kings running in Penticton, for example. This first new location will serve as a blueprint for future outposts, however, Dion is adamant expansion will not be instantaneous. 

"We will take a careful and measured approach," explains Dion. "We want to be thoughtful about the locations," he continues, noting that Cockney Kings has chosen to focus on being community-oriented and about serving the locals more than a tourist market.  

Right now, the Dions are focused on finishing up the final steps to get the doors open to the Cornwall Avenue location. If all goes well, opening day will be at the end of August, just in time to catch plenty of beach-goers in search of fish and chips for a day at the beach.