Steveston Village has two National Historic Sites. But while the Britannia Shipyards and the Gulf of Georgia Cannery lure legions of heritage fans to the charming waterfront community, some might think a third ‘historic’ spot is just as worthy of the accolade—especially if you’re a devotee of crisply battered fish and succulent golden fries.
Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Dave’s Fish & Chips is a local legend that Richmondites love and hungry visitors keep discovering with lip-smacking glee. Launching as a busy takeout restaurant in 1978 before relocating six years later to the Moncton Street restaurant site it has occupied ever since, the eatery’s nautically-themed interior and blue-trimmed brick exterior has changed little over the years.
And that, according to Dave Scott—the eponymous restaurant’s owner—is a major factor in its longevity. Not that they’ve ever rested on their laurels, though. We recently sat down with Dave to chat about the early days and discover some of the reasons his comfort food hotspot is still going strong after four decades.
Tourism Richmond (TR): How did the business get started?
Dave Scott (DS): One day my mother-in-law, Joan, happened to mention that she thought it was strange there were no fish and chip shops in Steveston. I chatted about it a little with my wife Nancy—then the next day I came home with the lease papers on a Chatham Street building. I just remember thinking: why not and what have we got to lose?!
TR: What happened next?
DS: Well, first we had to get all the equipment and then I had to learn how to make fish and chips! We opened just a few weeks later on a crowded Canada Day morning—and we had a line-up outside the door less than an hour later. We had a team of six ladies slicing the potatoes and it was just really busy all day. Most new places do a soft opening, but ours was definitely a hard opening!
The exterior of Dave's Fish & Chips. | Photo: John Lee
TR: How hard was that first year?
DS: I did all the cooking back then, and I didn’t have a vacation until the second year. But we had great support from all our friends and family. A friend helped prepare a business plan for us so we could approach the bank; he’s still our accountant 40 years later. We’ve also had really great staff here over the years—they’ve been like family as well. We all just dived in, went to work and never looked back.
TR: But how did you make it work?
DS: The best thing we ever did was buying this building six years after we started. The cost of doing business has changed a lot over the years but when you own your own site you have control of your rent—and that’s kept us on an even keel over the years.
We’ve also been really consistent with our fish—Alaskan cod, Pacific halibut—and with our local suppliers. I’ve had opportunities to change to cheaper suppliers over the years but it has never seemed worth it. And we’ve also kept things simple: dishes that people enjoy, and the smiling faces of our staff.
TR: Do you know how many locals you’ve employed since 1978?
DS: We’ve had more than 1,100 employees here. A lot of our staff have been seasonal—we always hire more in summer, including lots of kids—and I’ve stayed in touch with many of them. Some of our employees have been here for decades, including three that came straight from high school. If we ever have a staff reunion, I think we’ll need to use a local arena!
TR: Do you still do the cooking?
DS: I’m 71 now and I stepped back a bit a few years ago. But I’m still an employee, and I still come in and cook and clean the tables whenever possible. I also eat here regularly. My favourite dish is the one-piece halibut with poutine. I think we make a great poutine here: simple but really tasty.
TR: Have people’s tastes for fish and chips changed since 1978?
DS: People have always wanted fish and chips. They’re looking for the smell, the flavour and the treat of it. We’ve added things like salads to the menu over the years but having fish and chips isn’t about health; it’s about treating yourself and we all need to do that every once in a while!
Don't get battered at Dave's Fish & Chips! | Photo: John Lee