Here at Cottage Life, we realize how hard it’s been for businesses to bounce back after the pandemic. To do our part, we’ll be highlighting the stories of different businesses in cottage country. This week, we spoke with Natasha Alves who, along with her husband, Val, runs For the Halibut Fish and Chips, a fish and chip shop in Bancroft, Ont.
What is For the Halibut Fish and Chips?
I guess you could say we’re an old-school, boutique-type of fish and chip shop. In today’s world, I think fish and chip shops on their own, in a solo format, are becoming harder and harder to find. And that’s what we offer, mainly fish and chips with some additional items. But we tend to stay to the fish and chip tradition, offering some specialties around halibut—because that’s our name. We’ve taken it back down to the basics of fish and chips out of a box because we want people to focus on the food and their experience, as opposed to cutlery and plates and all the things that don’t really make the food.
How did the business get started?
Both my husband and I were in the corporate world. I, myself, was a corporate trainer, and he was a financial planner. We’ve had a cottage in Apsley for around seven years now. Bancroft is just north of our cottage, and we would visit this specific fish and chip shop there on a regular basis. It was our favourite. We’re big fish and chip fanatics. But they put the shop up for sale, and my husband and I looked at each other and for a moment thought maybe we could set aside the rat race and do something different. I have a culinary background, which I set aside years ago. Our kids were little then, and we weren’t quite ready for it.
A year or two later, the shop was still up for sale—so we uprooted our life, left Toronto, and moved to the cottage.
We took over the fish and chip shop in 2019 and revamped it to provide an experience for the local market here and for cottagers and visitors throughout the summer. We wanted to create something unforgettable, that was experiential, and that took people away from the concrete jungle and the stresses of daily life.
What inspired the name?
The name was a kitschy name that was brought on by the old owners. I’m a big fan of puns, so we kept it. We have revamped it a little bit. We wanted it to highlight the quality of the product with a bit of a quirk added to it.
What’s your most popular dish?
Halibut and chips is our absolute most popular. I would say the halibut poutine and halibut tacos are catching up in popularity, but fish and chips definitely. Our halibut pulls people to our shop.
We’re probably one of the few places that offer halibut and chips in its traditional sense. It’s hand cut in the shop every day, by myself. So, it’s not processed, it’s not chemical filled, or any of that, which is pretty common within the product market. We keep the skin on for a little bit of a different flavour. Our batter is light and crispy. It’s not the type that sits in your stomach.
We also hand-cut our fries, our own Yukon Golds, and double-fry them. And our taco sauce is something that has picked up steam. We get constant requests to have it jarred. It’s a jalapeno aioli.
What other factors set For the Halibut Fish and Chips apart?
We got this property because it was nestled between two of the biggest attractions in the area. One is the York River, which you see people kayaking and canoeing on throughout the summer. So, we’re right on the water. And on the other side, we have the Eagle’s Nest cliffs, which are pretty darn majestic and a hiking and sightseeing spot with a great lookout point. We can offer a picnic area outside for people to enjoy the space, but we also have an indoor dining area.
Our outdoor space is dog-friendly. One of the things that we do—because we process our halibut in-house—is dehydrate the fish skins and create dog treats out of them, which has built us a big, furry fan base. We actually have customers that will pull up, and their dogs start jumping up and down in their car because they know exactly what’s coming.
What does the future look like For the Halibut Fish and Chips?
We’re looking at expanding, possibly franchising our space. We get a lot of people coming in and requesting that we move everywhere from Petawawa to Barrie to Toronto—they want us down the street from them. I have people that drive two hours midweek just for fish and chips, even though they have a place that provides it around the corner from them. We’ve created something, whether it’s the experience or the food or a combination thereof, that makes people want to come to us. So, we’re definitely open to having more spaces that will allow us to expand our product.
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