Norwich fish and chip shop owner looks back on half a century in city
Perched beside Mal Motta on one of the stools at the Grosvenor Fish Bar, looking out the window as the world goes by, I can see why he was reluctant to retire and give up the shop.
Just about everyone who passed by the shop and saw him in the window waved and smiled at him – with many stopping to look at a newspaper cutting in the window from last week’s Evening News.
The news story was about the popular chip shop owner who is retiring after 45 years of serving traditional fish dinners to the people of Norwich.
The day after the story went in to the paper we posted it online and it again elicited a lot of response from well-wishers and friends sad to see the Welsh-accented businessman go.
Being a fish shop owner must be like being a publican or a priest in that people tell you the secrets they would not trust to others.
In his near half-century in Norwich, Mr Motta has seen generations of people come in to his shop.
“One minute they are young children and the next they are people of 40 with children of their own,” he said.
“It’s the customers that I will miss most. I have enjoyed every minute of it, especially meeting all the local people.”
He bought the Grosvenor Fish Bar, on the corner of Lower Goat Lane and Pottergate, 32 years ago, ran it for a couple of years, then rented it out, before coming back about five years ago.
He said: “I always wanted to keep the Grosvenor. It’s like EastEnders, watching people go by.”
Born in Parma, Italy, he came to the UK with his family aged just five. His father ran a fish and chip shop, Castle Fish shop, in Caerphilly, South Wales, which is still there.
He used to help out at the shop as a schoolboy and stayed in South Wales until he was 21.
The shop was visited on a Tuesday and Thursday night by Welsh singing legend Tom Jones, who was playing at a local working men’s club, and had a grey mini van he used to get between gigs.
“He was a really nice gentleman,” he said.
Since moving to Norwich in 1967, Mr Motta has continued the family tradition by opening a dozen restaurants and take-aways, selling Britain’s time-honoured dish in and around his own adopted home city.
His chip shop career started in Stafford Street, and included shops in Sprowston Road, Bowthorpe Road, St John’s Close, and Upper Stafford Avenue.
He said: “Forty-five years ago there was no McDonald’s or Chinese restaurants or Kentucky Fried Chicken, it was just fish and chips and that was the meal of the day. And it was just fish and chips that we served, no variety. I used to pay five shillings a stone for cod and it’s now £48 a stone.
“But I still go to the same potato merchants in Beeston St Andrew that I did 45 years ago. The fish, however, now comes from Grimsby instead of Lowestoft.”
The 67-year-old is now stepping back from the fryers to allow a third generation to run the business.
The Grosvenor Fish Bar has been bought by his son Christian, who left behind a career as an interior designer in New York to start a new life selling fish and chips.
Meanwhile, his daughter Lucy has already been running the family’s Rembrandt restaurant on Dereham Road in Easton with her partner Skip for eight years.
The retiring Mr Motta said he was certain that his legacy was in safe hands – but he will still be available to help out if needed.
“I am going on holiday for a couple of months and then in September I will come back to help my children out where I can. My other son Dario is in London studying pharmacology, so I’m no help to him!
“It is a lovely business and a lovely city, so it is nice to keep it in the family.”
Mr Motta said he would visit his 89-year-old mother in Italy before returning to the city.
“I think Norwich is the nicest city in the world,” he said. “People in Norfolk don’t always understand that, but if you talk to people over here on holidays they all say what a beautiful city it is.
“What a lovely city it is. The people who moan about it are the ones who have never been anywhere else. We’ve got everything close here – the Broads, the seaside.”
Away from the fish bar, Mr Motta is a keen Norwich City supporter and likes watching golf on TV. He used to play it but he said he has had MS for eight years, which was one of the reasons he was retiring.
He used to know former Norwich City FC chairmen and remembers Geoffrey Watling visiting the Rembrandt.
He also remembers the late turkey king, Bernard Matthews. He also met then Home Secretary Michael Howard in Easton, when the first special constables were being introduced.
Who do you think would make a good Evening News Original? Email Evening News reporter David Bale at firstname.lastname@example.org