98-year-old Scottish fishmongers reveals ‘very worrying time’ they had to scale back operations – and call in dad

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Pamela Zenati, one of the business partners of James Dickson and Son, in Edinburgh, Scotland, says they’re hoping to reach their 100th birthday in 2021 with the business in-tact. 

They did once have a slight hiccup when an arm of the business once became stuck.

But that happened a long time after the fishmongers was established in 1921. It was set-up by Ms Zenati’s great-grandfather who put it out at Cockenzie Harbour. He started processing and smoking the fish there in boats.

“When it started out they did an awful lot of wholesale,” she told Salmon Business.

“They had an awful lot of workers: my great-grandfather and then my grandfather joined the business. They used to have lots of women and men working here. It was a very different atmosphere at the time. The women and some of the men were singing hymns when I went down to the shop. They used to sing hymns while we worked so it was a very lovely atmosphere.”

But, in the midst of all the joy and happiness, the wholesale side of the business began to struggle.

“The wholesale started to cause problems,” she said.

“We then got into real difficulties at one point. My dad got involved in the business. It was a terribly worrying time. There was just no money about because the fish was so high in price. We’re affected by weather so if there’s a lot of wind, there’s a shortage and the price goes through the roof. You can’t pass it on to your customer. So, it was a very worrying time.”

One of the vans Photo: James Dickson and Son

“You get good times and bad times but you’ve just got to deal with it. The wholesale became difficult. You couldn’t make a profit on that side. When me and my brothers joined the company, we started to change things, cutting the wholesale right back. We took on more van runs. We have more vans going out now which is more retail across the shop. The retail has kept us going while the wholesale goes down.”

The fishmongers buys salmon from farms on the Shetland Islands. Many years ago, they did used to get wild salmon.

Ms Zenati told Salmon Business: “We’re buying 146-150 kilo of salmon per week during the high season. My brother says one salmon is roughly 1.5 to 2 kilos. When it’s the high season we do good but it peters off during the winter.”

Salmon from James Dickson and Son Photo: James Dickson and Son

She explained that she was hoping the business would hit its 100 mark in the next two years, with the business going strong.

She said: “We’re hoping to make the century mark which is just two years away. We’re hoping to make it with still the family in the business because at the moment it’s myself, my two brothers, Neil and John Dixon, and Ramsay is in it as well.

“But is there going to be another generation to pass it on to? It’s hard work. My brother is up very early in the morning.”

The hard work involved in the business didn’t stop famous painter John Bellany joining when he was studying at the Edinburgh College of Art.

Ms Zenati told us: “He did some paintings of the workplace with the fish workers filleting the fish. There was quite a few big paintings he did.”

And she also revealed that the business has delivered to names including the late Ronnie Corbett and Formula One driver Jackie Stewart.