A traditional Liverpool chippy that served its customers for 30 years is still remembered to this day as being the ‘best around’.

Despite the chip shop changing hands over 20 years ago after its owners retired, people still remember the “delicious” food they still haven’t tasted anything as good since. The chip shop was Lee’s which opened Mill Street in Dingle opened in 1969.

For three decades they served locals with traditional English and Chinese meals before Mr Lee and his wife, Rose, retired in 1999. Recently, their son Andrew posted up a nostalgic photograph of the chippy in a Dingle Facebook group and received an overwhelming response from those who remembered it.

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As part of our How It Used To Be series, focussing on Merseysiders personal stories and experiences of living here across the generations, we spoke to Andrew and his sister, Vivien, about growing up in Dingle working at their parents’ chip shop.

Vivien, 54, the older of the two siblings, remembers growing up and working in the chip shop through the 1970s and ’80s. Andrew’s memories, aged 36, are of the shop in the 1990s.

Vivien told the ECHO that her parents, both originally from Malaysia, were the first generation to emigrate to the UK back in the 1950s. They first opened a chip shop in Bootle that wasn’t successful and they “struggled to make ends meet”, before closing and opening up Mr Lee’s in Dingle when she was just a year old.

Vivien remembers growing up with the routine of the shop where she herself peeled potatoes for chips, and onions and garlic for the large vats of curry. The chippy opened before lunch until 11.30pm, only closing on a Sunday and Wednesday afternoons.

At the time, Vivien remembers Mill Street as a “vibrant and busy street”, more so than nearby Park Road. But back then, Mill Street (which runs parallel) was a main artery into town before it was later blocked off near the city centre.

Vivien said: “It was a main bus route and lorries and trucks used to come by and stop for fish and chips. On the same block there was a newsagent, a fruit and veg shop, and a bike shop.

“There was also a butcher’s shop on the next block. In those days it was all the small shops and not your big supermarkets, that’s where people shopped before Leo’s (supermarket) opened on Park Road in the ’80s.”

View of Mr Lee's chip shop on Mill Road, Dingle, 1988
View of Lee’s chip shop (red shop front) on Mill Road, Dingle, 1988

One of Vivien’s most enduring memories is how hard her parents worked which she puts down to their culture and upbringing. She said: “My parents didn’t take holidays. They’re originally from Chinese descent and they’re from Malaysia. So every five or eight years they would go back and visit their folks.”

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At home, Vivien spoke Cantonese with her parents before learning English at school. And although English was not her parents’ first language, they spoke well enough to communicate with customers.

And even as a child at school, much of Vivien’s young life revolved around preparing food before the shop was even open, adding: “There are other families in Liverpool and, no doubt throughout England, who are chippy kids, or takeaway kids with a similar experience.”

But there was a good reason behind why her mum and dad worked so hard. Vivien said: “I think what they wanted for us was to get a good education and they encouraged us to work and study hard so that we wouldn’t have to work in the chippy.”

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Agreeing, Andrew added: “There was never any expectation for us to take over after they retired. I think they wanted us to have a career with a better work life balance.”

Andrew, born in the mid-’80s, had a similar experience of life revolving around the shop’s long hours. With little separation of work and family life, he admits he always felt a little different from the other kids.

He told the ECHO: “Our family didn’t have the same routine as our friends’ families. There was no question of them working to 10 or 11 every night. You always knew you were a little bit different.”

Andrew’s memories of working at the shop are of the daily preparation of the batter for the fish, while listening to Radio Merseyside every morning awaiting the delivery of Hollands Pies.

However, he remembers his mum and dad made sure he had as many positive childhood experiences as they could. Despite their busy work-life, he remembers fondly trips to Blackpool and Southport in the holidays, or even just days out at Sefton Park and Otterspool.

Mr Lee standing behind the counter of his chip shop on Mill Lane, Dingle, 1990s
Mr Lee standing behind the counter of his chip shop on Mill Lane, Dingle, 1990s
(Image: Andrew Lee)

One of the reasons both Vivien and Andrew think the chip shop was so successful in Dingle, and why people kept coming back, was for that they “produced quality food”. Vivien said: “My mum was very particular with hygiene, she took that very seriously and had very high standards. And my dad was often reluctant to increase prices even when things like the cost of potatoes went up.”

But it’s only since his parents retired and sold the shop that Andrew really has started to understand just how much his parents and their chippy were appreciated in the community. He said: “Since my mum and dad retired, the amount they’ve been recognised in the street or just going about their daily business. Wherever they are in Liverpool, they’ve been recognised.

Rose Lee, working in the shop in August, 1986
Rose Lee, working in the shop in August, 1986
(Image: Andrew Lee)

“I think it’s only since they retired I’ve got to see the really positive side of things – how much goodwill there was towards them, how they were recognised for what they did and how long they were able to keep the business going.”

And it was this appreciation that flooded in the form of hundreds of likes and comments as soon as Andrew posted the photo of his mum and dad behind the counter of the chippy in the Dingle Facebook group.

One post said: “I loved going to their chip shop, It was worth the walk down Beresford Road even in the pouring rain, just to get chips and onion gravy, or sausage dinner. And Chicken fried rice curry and chips.

“It was never the same after they had gone. I last saw Mr Lee by Mersey road, Aigburth, years ago. Best chippy in the Dingle.”

Vivien Lee with her brother Andrew in 2021
Vivien Lee with her brother Andrew in 2021
(Image: Andrew Lee)

Another said: “[Mr Lee] absolutely lovely man and a gentleman. Best chippy around when he had it and food was delicious. I still call it Lee’s and always will.

“We had relatives lived in Yorkshire and when they visited they would ask us not to cook them anything as they wanted fish and chips from Mr Lee’s!”

Another comment, read: “Obviously they not only left a legacy of the good people they were on Mill Street, but a definite longing for those chips! Loved going in that shop. No matter what they call it now, It will always be Lee’s to everyone in the dingle.”

Another post said: “Awww, I loved Mr and Mrs Lee – both were lovely people. The queue used to be out the door. Was the best chippy around.”

Does this story awaken any memories for you? Let us know in the comments section below.

While one poster expressed a longing for their parents’ food even to this day, commenting: “I loved your dad’s chippy. I left Liverpool a long time ago, but food from your dad’s was the best. Even today I am unable to find chicken chow mien as good, and I’ve tried to find something that tastes anywhere near as good and failed.”

Since retiring, Mr Lee and his wife Rose have lived in Aigburth. Recently, Mr Lee suffered a stroke from which son Andrew said he is steadily recovering. Get well soon, Mr Lee!

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