The first customer in the door when Olde Yorke Fish & Chips opened on March 16, 1997 was the TTC driver on route 56, who had been keeping an eye on what was happening to this property from a bus stop on Laird. Rather than leave his bus idling while he checked out the new eatery, he finished his shift and returned as soon as he could to savour a generous helping of fish ‘n chips, courtesy of the Feathers.
When Peter and Anne Feather first saw the property, they had to evaluate whether they could make a go of it. It had been a restaurant before, but the tenants weren’t able to make it work. Laird Drive at the time was a quiet street, with industry on the east side. The Feathers had never been to Leaside before and knew nothing about the neighbourhood. They sat outside at McSorley’s on Bayview and watched who was walking by, and thought those passersby might be interested in eating fish ‘n chips. They also knew that for the business to be successful there had to be “quality in the kitchen and service in the dining room.”
Peter and Anne, along with their son Paul and twin daughters, Olivia and Rachel, were the total staff complement when they opened. And they all remember the date, because it was the twins’ 21st birthday. Now, there are about 40 staff, many of whom have been with them for more than a decade. They don’t all work at the same time, of course, except on Good Friday, which Peter describes as “a bonkers day” – when a condition of employment is that you be available to work the busiest day in the year for a fish ‘n chip shop. Regulars know to avoid this day, and the kitchen manager has given instructions that the camera people from the TV stations are not to come into his busy kitchen and slow things down.
Peter and Anne are originally from York in Yorkshire, where Peter’s dad ran fish ‘n chip takeaway stands. The family first came to Canada in the summer of 1977 to visit friends in Belleville. They ended up settling there for 10 years, and then did a bit of a boomerang to Australia, back to England, and after a family vote (which Anne lost), back to Canada in 1992. Scarborough was the destination this time, as they wanted more choices for their children’s future schooling in a large city.
After some additional travelling, Paul settled in Collingwood with his family and runs a restaurant called “Fish & Sips”. Rachel went off to Kempville College, very interested in horses. She is still interested in horses, but realized they would be lots of work, with low pay, and instead opted to join the family business as the floor manager in the dining room. Olivia used her earnings from working at the restaurant to finance her way through nursing studies at Centennial and Ryerson. She worked in labour and delivery at Women’s College Hospital, but also did shifts at the restaurant to help out. Three years ago, she left Women’s College to work in the restaurant office full-time.
Peter was the original cook, but as the business expanded, he spent less time cooking and more time sourcing quality ingredients. He’s pleased that there is again cod from Newfoundland on the menu. The refrigerated truck makes its first Toronto delivery of each run to them. He’s equally meticulous about sourcing his other seafood and the ingredients for their home-made desserts – key lime pie, apple crisp and sherry trifle. The Feathers pay just as much attention to the potatoes, which arrive in huge quantities. Luckily, there is a machine peeler and also a potato chipper that can process 50 pounds a minute. If you want the ultimate taste of Northern England, mushy peas are also on the menu.
Old Yorke has a separate takeout entrance for those who want their fish & chips for takeaway, but don’t show up on Sunday, as everything is closed for the day.
With Olivia and Rachel now very involved, Peter and Anne are able to take life a bit easier. They actually take holidays and are able to relax knowing that their daughters and faithful staff are keeping a good eye on the business. And yes, they now know Leaside well. Peter and Anne, Olivia and her family all live in Leaside.