40 years of Quality Fish Bar in Finsbury Park: ‘I gave up a law career for this chippy...I don’t regret a thing’
- Credit: Archant
For 40 years, Quality Fish Bar has been a staple of Finsbury Park. Owner Tony Harmanda tells James Morris: ‘I wish I could’ve frozen the things I’ve seen...’
We all know Finsbury Park has changed over the years. But not all of us are as qualified to say so as Tony Harmanda, owner of Quality Fish Bar.
This month, he is celebrating 40 years of the shop in Seven Sisters Road.
In 1976, Tony was 14 years old when his mum and dad opened for business. He never imagined that he’d be behind the counter just five years later.
“I always helped out my mum and dad while at school,” he says, “but I joined for good when I was 19. My mum died aged 46.
“I was studying law at Holloway School at the time, but I left to help my dad run the shop. I enjoyed law, but wasn’t upset about leaving the course. We were a close family unit, and families help each other out.
“I never expected that we’d be here for 40 years. My mum and dad bought the shop very much as an investment: come in, establish ourselves and sell up at a profit.”
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Having worked in the heart of Finsbury Park for four decades – the chippy is across the road from the station – Tony claims the area has changed “beyond recognition”.
He says: “Finsbury Park used to be very community-orientated. Everyone knew each other, and would say hello. It was a nice time, I suppose, but times change.”
Chain stores now dominate the units around his shop. Tesco, Subway, Greggs, Poundland, Costa are just a few to have snapped up the prime retail space next to the busy station. More will come.
It means Tony, who runs the shop with sisters Eva and Mary, is unsure about the future.
But he remains relaxed: “It’s life. Things change. Supermarkets and chains have come in. It’s not as easy for independent shops in Finsbury Park these days. Average rent is £40,000 to £50,000. Rates are going up all the time.
“We don’t know how much longer we are going to be here. We’ll see where we’re at in a couple of years.
“But for now, we just go with the flow. We have been here a long time and customers are loyal. Arsenal matchdays, for example, are a big part of our income: it can be three times as much as a normal day.”
He gets more riled about the absence of “proper” chip shops in London: “They are dying out. And that’s a shame, because fish and chips is a nutritious meal.
“Fresh fish, and potatoes that are peeled, cleaned and cooked on site. You don’t get that in the chicken shops.”
Asked for his funniest story over the years, Tony, who now lives in Enfield, laughs: “I wish I had been able to freeze some of the things I’ve seen.
“One story sticks in the mind. We used to have a late licence, staying open until 4am on the weekends. Suddenly, my brother and I heard a massive tyre screech and a car had turned onto its roof at the traffic lights outside.
“This Irish fella got out the car and asked: ‘You couldn’t give us a hand, could you?’ We helped him get the car back on its wheels – and he drove off as if nothing happened.”
He adds: “I love how we have seen people grow up. One girl used to come in here in a pram with her mum. She grew up, went to Canada but came back to London with her own kid. They walked in and she said: ‘Literally nothing has changed. I’m doing exactly the same thing as when I was a kid.’
“We have seen a lot of that – and it reminds us how long we’ve been around.”