For generations of fish and chip diners in Elgin, the back booths of the Northern Fish Restaurant are synonymous with salt and vinegar-fuelled good times.
Out-of-town visitors might criticise them for being uncomfortable and old-fashioned.
But for decades regular diners have begged owner Michael Miele to keep the 1960s seating exactly how it is, unique and almost untouched by the passage of time.
This month the Northern Fish Restaurant celebrated an incredible 100 years serving up dinners on Elgin High Street, almost all of which has been under the stewardship of one family.
Current custodian Mr Miele, 69, began working behind the counter when he was at primary school, started full-time when he left school in 1970 and took over running it in 1995 when his father John retired.
From when you could buy an incredible 40 fish suppers for just £1, through the struggles of finding potatoes during war rationing, featuring in a Canadian fashion magazine and the uncertainties of Covid – the Northern has seen, and survived, it all.
Generations of memories at the Northern Fish Restaurant
When the Northern Fish Bar was opened by the Janetta family in 1923, Elgin High Street was a very different place.
It was the main road from Aberdeen to Inverness and a convenient pit stop for those making what was then a very arduous journey.
Almost all of the shops had people living above them too, and they were all eager for somewhere to get dinner from after a night out at the picture house a few doors down.
As the decades flew by the clientele changed to families looking for dinner after a busy day window shopping in the town centre.
Today the back booths are still synonymous with generations of Elgin residents for days and evenings of tasty treats and family time.
Mr Miele said: “Those tables could tell a few stories…
“It’s always been booths. That’s what they were all like back then. It’s memories for so many people.
“We’ve thought about modernising it, make it more up to date, but people always tell us to leave it alone. It’s history for so many people.
“It’s seen it all. I remember we had an old couple in their 80s get engaged. And there’s been more tiffs and rows than I can remember.”
Polished and gleaming amongst the back booths at the Northern Fish Restaurant is probably the most-loved jukebox in Elgin.
Far from being a dusty antique, the record player has been kept in tip-top working order by Mr Miele who maintains it himself.
And the playlist of records is a trip through the past of the Northern Fish Restaurant – from Let it Be by The Beatles and Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits to Barbie Girl by Aqua and Coldplay’s Yellow.
The sign on the machine may say it needs a sixpence, but thanks to them resembling the size of today’s £1 coins you can still get five spins on the machine of your favourite songs.
Mr Miele said: “In the old days the youngsters used to come in just to play music on the jukebox, there was nowhere else to play music in those days.
“They would often go to the picture house and see whatever was on that day and then come here for some music.
“It’s getting more and more difficult to get music for it though. You don’t get 45s many places now.”
Miele family’s move to Elgin almost never happened
The first Miele, Mr Miele’s grandfather, also Michael, began working at the Northern Fish Restaurant in 1929 – but Elgin certainly wasn’t where he planned on going.
After serving during the First World War he was on his way to make his dreams come true in the US.
However, after arriving off a ship from the UK the immigration officials were surprised and confused to learn he could not speak English – so sent him back across the Atlantic.
After arriving back in Hull, he had no prospects and no money until one of his superiors from the war spotted him and told him about a job going as manager of the Northern in Elgin – and offered to pay his train fare there.
The Janettas were so impressed with the job he did in Elgin they offered him a chance to buy one of their fish and chip shops off him – choosing the Forres branch, also called the Northern.
The family eventually returned to Elgin when son John bought the shop there in 1953.
Descendants of the older Michael Miele are now well-known across the north for selling Italian-style ice cream with shops in Inverness, Lossiemouth, Aviemore, Fort Augustus and more.
The future of the Northern Fish Restaurant
Despite its undoubted legacy on Elgin High Street, the future of the Northern Fish Bar is uncertain.
With his 70th birthday approaching before the end of the year, Mr Miele has put the business up for sale.
Despite seeing countless changes in the town centre during his half-decade behind the fryer, he thinks the future is still bright for the Northern.
He said: “For me, it’s just the right time to call it a day.
“It’s been an incredible time, I wouldn’t change it. For a start, you always need good customers, and we’ve had fantastic customers.
“Even during Covid, they were queuing up outside in the wind and the rain. I felt so bad for them.
“We’ve always said ‘quality service and hygiene’, because you really do have to look after your customers.
“You have to take pride in what you do if you want someone to pay for it.
“And we’ve always used the freshest local fish too. I can’t tell you where it comes from though, we keep it a secret.”
Inside the Northern Fish Restaurant
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