Tobermory Fish Company's Story

Taste of Place Trails Stories

The fascinating story of the Tobermory Fish Company starts back in 1971, when Hugh and Marjorie Goldie started growing trout in the little burn behind their house on Tobermory Main Street which they moved across the bay to cages in the sea and then into Aros Loch. Hugh had set up a fish farm – the first of its kind on the West Coast of Scotland. Soon the bigger companies started to move into the market and it became more and more difficult to make a living from small-scale fish farming. However Hugh saw an opportunity to add value to his trout by smoking it, and this is when the famous Tobermory Smoked Trout was born. Tobermory Trout became beloved across the world, with Hugh and Marjorie building a significant mail order list including customers throughout the UK and as far afield as the United States. Fifty years later, the business is still very much in the family and now in its third generation. It’s run by Hugh’s granddaughter Sally MacColl and her mum, Rosie, but has transformed in the years since Hugh’s days of growing trout in his back garden.

What made it what it is today

It’s Sally we have to thank for the current iteration of the Tobermory Fish Company, with their smokehouse and shop which sits on the hill above the town. She’s manning the shop when we speak on the phone, and warns me she may have to run at any moment to serve a customer. Sally tells me that in 2010, when she had just left school and was working in the hospitality industry, she discovered a love for local Scottish produce. When a couple on holiday came into the coffee shop where she was working and asked where they could buy some local seafood, Sally had to tell them that, despite being famous as a fishing village, Tobermory didn’t have a fish shop. She was inspired to evolve the family business to incorporate a shop dedicated to selling local fish and produce.

 The family had lots of retail experience as Sally’s mum, Rosie, ran a toy shop on the Main Street for many years, made famous by the popular children’s television programme Balamory. After all the excitement that Balamory brought to the island and to the toy shop, Rosie was ready for a change and was immediately, enthusiastically on board with Sally’s idea. The toy shop was sold, and the proceeds were used to fund a refurbishment of the smokehouse and the addition of a retail space. Now, Sally is in charge of front-of-house while Rosie is head of production, smoking all the fish and hand slicing it, before it’s sold in the shop next door. Sally’s dad, Duncan, is also a director at the company – so it’s very much still a family business.

Experience the ‘magic’

Sally speaks of the “magic” around Tobermory Trout, saying “the recipe is so special. You think it’s the most luxurious smoked salmon but it’s actually smoked trout. It’s just so buttery and delicious”. She goes on to describe how family tradition is as much a part of their customers’ connection to the trout as it is their own. “I still have people phoning at Christmas saying ‘our grandparents have passed away but we would now like to be added to your mailing list, it’s not Christmas without Tobermory Trout. It’s a family tradition’. There’s a real sort of magic around this product.”

Location also plays a huge part in a business like the Tobermory Fish Company. Sally credits the “cool, clear Hebridean water” of Scotland’s West Coast for producing the delicious fish and shellfish which is enhanced by their smoking processes and, of course, secret family recipes which even her husband doesn’t know. According to Sally, this is “the best sea in the world for growing seafood and trout”.

 

A community affair

Tobermory’s community is also clearly very special to Sally, who says “It’s unusual to find places where everyone works together. We all help each other and recommend each other’s produce. We all know each other and we all eat and enjoy each other’s produce, whether it’s Glengorm Beef, Isle of Mull Cheddar or the Island Bakery’s organic biscuits. I think we make a great team”. This supportive community spirit is as much at the heart of the Tobermory Fish Company as the fish itself, with Sally’s idea to create the shop in the first place coming from the need for the town to have a place to sell and showcase the products she speaks of so enthusiastically. Sally is excited for the future, and has hopes that her baby daughter – who was born last year, coinciding with the 50th Anniversary of her great-grandfather founding Tobermory Fish – might one day carry on the legacy of the family business.

Discover more about Tobermory Fish Company and other producers as part of the Seafood Taste of Place Trail >

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