May you always have work for your hands to do.
It’s an Irish proverb that fits self-admitted workaholic Stu Harvey, owner of The Wee Chippie fish and chips restaurant. But he’s putting that work aside for now to spend time with his children, and has sold the eatery to another fish and chips company from Pitt Meadows.
“It’s been seven years with no real vacation,” he said Monday in half-nervous and half-excited apprehension of leaving the shop, which has been a mainstay in Mission for 25 years, behind.
The restaurant was opened by Scottish immigrant Billy Larmer in 1987 where the Cedar Grove Animal Hospital is located today. At the time it was the only business in the building, so Larmer prefaced the Chippie name with Wee, for its tiny size.
“I helped them open it. I was a manager at McDonald’s at the time and I went over and helped them because we were family friends,” said Harvey.
The two immigrated to Canada in 1975 and both lived near 14 Avenue and Horne Street. Harvey is from Ireland, and when he bought the Wee Chippie from Larmer in 2004, he festooned the place with Irish symbols and motifs, including shamrocks hanging from the ceiling.
At the time, The Wee Chippie was doing brisk business, with $500,000 in annual sales. Harvey had been a manager at McDonald’s for 15 years, and made the jump to become a small business owner. In the end, it didn’t work out.
“For mom and pop restaurants it’s a tough go,” he said, adding a combination of the HST, stricter drinking and driving laws, and an increase to the minimum wage hurt his business.
“Our demographics for fish and chips was seniors. And seniors got hit really hard with the HST. Their bills went up and their income didn’t,” he said, adding he estimates he lost 35 per cent of his customers when the tax came into effect.
Today, the place remains quintessentially Irish, with a foosball and air hockey table and hand-drawn pictures of Irish landmarks. Various jerseys of Irish soccer teams adorn the walls and there are Irish “tea towels” as well.
That will soon change, as the family-owned Austin House fish and chips company moves in, which already has a location in Pitt Meadows on Harris Road.
“They do their fish and chips a little bit different. They’re Chinese so it’s a light tempura batter rather than British-style,” he said before adding he likes the taste.
Harvey is looking forward to spending time with his children, who are 10 and six, saying he missed out while he was working all the time. He said a summer off will give him a chance for reassessing.
And who knows? After selling his stake to Harvey, Larmer moved to Quesnel and opened a Wee Chippies there as well. As another Irish proverb goes, “life is a strange lad.”