A FORMER pub chef who spent weeks getting employer knock-backs on the dole has set up an exotic pet shop.

Mark Symonds was until the start of the year working in a city centre pub, but after one too many shifts “frying chips”, he threw in his kitchen towel to get another job.

But after signing on the dole he was turned down for jobs at Subway and McDonald’s, or simply got no reply.

“The turning point was getting turned down for a job flipping burgers, despite being a qualified chef, fishmonger and butcher,” said the 32-year-old. “I must have been doing about 10 or 15 job applications a week, getting absolutely nowhere.”

Fed-up, he decided to take a risk pursuing a dream to run his own exotic pet shop in the city. Under a Government scheme called the New Enterprise Allowance, he was given a £1,000 loan to buy start-up stock, and draw weekly payments for the first 26 weeks of trading up to a total of £1,274 – handled through the Jobcentre.

He also has access to a business mentor throughout the start-up period.

Because of that support, the former Christopher Whitehead high school pupil opened the doors at Rainbow Dragons in Trinity Street on Saturday, June 2.

The store specialises in all things exotic and particularly reptilian including, in-store, four boa constrictor snakes, chameleons and crested gecko lizards.

Pride of place goes to Spike the Iguana, who Mr Symonds has had for 11 years and sits on his own plinth at the back of the shop – all five-and-a-half foot of him. However, he is “not for sale”.

“I’ve had a quite a few customers in and have hit my break-even mark so far, so it’s going nicely,” he said.

Mr Symonds said exotic animals were his passion although he was still “mad on cooking”.

“I’ve been breeding animals myself for a long time. I have a passion for it,” he said.

“So now I’m getting to do something I love.”

On Saturday, from 9am until 6pm, people can go into the shop and handle the creatures.