End of an era - last orders at tearooms

For more than a century there’s been a tearoom at the south end of Commercial Street, between the Post Office and the Tolbooth. There aren’t many shops on the street that survived in the same line of business for so long as Solotti’s, and this premises has had only three owners over its 120-year history. Thousands must have got their ham bun for their school dinner there, or tucked into a bacon roll and cup of tea at the tables, before catching a bus. Solotti’s was the most popular of the tearooms that folk used when in the town on a shopping mission, especially before the days of mass car-travel.

Alexander Solotti in the early 1920s
Walter Robertson serving a customer, early 1980s

Alexander Solotti was the son of an Italian, and came to Shetland around 1900 with his brother. It was the herring boom, and there was lots of work; Peter was a cooper, and Alexander set-up a grocery business in Baltasound, in a building made of fishboxes. Alexander soon relocated to Commercial Street about 1900 and the brothers founded their tearoom around 1905. Solotti senior had been a confectioner and, like so many Italians who settled in Britain, the Lerwick business P. Solotti & Son did a big trade in ice cream and lemonade. The shop proved hugely successful. The only opponents were the evangelicals who opposed Sunday opening, on the grounds that sabbath ice cream buying was corrupting the youth!

In 1946 Walter Robertson bought the business and ran it with his wife Molly until the early 1980s. The Robertsons kept the firm’s name, which had become so much part of Lerwick life, and despite the later name-change of the business to Faerdi-Maet, up till recently local folk still went to "Solotti's", long after any memory of where the name had come from.

The tearooms in the 1980s

Solotti’s ice cream tricycle doing the rounds past the gasworks; late 1960s

The outgoing owner Brenda Westmoreland with colleagues Elizabeth and Mary, November 2022. Photo by Jordan Clark

The tearoom was more than a place for a cuppa and a teacake. In the closer community of the past, folk were guaranteed to meet folk they knew in there, and it was a good place to hold a meeting, even including election campaigns! Solotti was renowned for their ice cream, and they had a tricycle delivery; countless Shetlanders remember the firm’s driver, George Batty, pedalling around Lerwick with the best vanilla in town.

Related Posts

Shetland Museum unveils new photographic exhibition capturing 1970s social history

A new photographic exhibition opens today at Shetland Museum and Archives which provides a glimpse into an aspect of Shetland’s ...

Read more

Shetland Museum unveils ‘All About Everything’ featuring the creative work of Eric Gray students

The creative and colourful work of Eric Gray students is on display from today in a new exhibition ‘All About Everything’ at the ...

Read more

Marion Ninianson’s Roup

Roup is a word not commonly used in Shetland any more, although the Shetland Times in 1962 advertised a house in Scalloway “for sale ...

Read more

New summer exhibition Ebbe and Flow to open this weekend

A new exhibition celebrating cultural and maritime connections with Scandinavia through the work of Scottish and Norwegian artists ...

Read more

Shetland Amenity Trust celebrates collaboration with Shetland Family History Group in acquiring Gilbert Goudie’s Notebook

Shetland Amenity Trust is delighted to announce the successful acquisition of a significant 19th century notebook to the Shetland ...

Read more

Wonderful woolly evening at the Shetland Museum

What a fantastic evening at the Shetland Museum celebrating the announcement of the new Shetland Wool Week Patrons, the Doull Family, ...

Read more

New book of Shetland Fine Lace Knitting launched

A new publication, ‘Shetland Fine Lace Knitting – Recreating patterns from the past’ by Shetland Museum’s textiles curator, ...

Read more

Profound new exhibition, Polar North, captures the fragility of the Arctic landscape

A profound new exhibition which captures the fragile and shifting beauty of the Arctic landscape opens this Sunday 10 March at Da ...

Read more

Shetland Museum and Archives launches series of ‘Thursday Lates’ heritage talks

Evenings celebrating Shetland’s rich culture and heritage will begin next month as Shetland Museum and Archives launches its ...

Read more

Be My Valentine

It’s that time of year, Valentine’s Day, the 14th of February. In the Shetland Archives Catalogue references to Valentines are ...

Read more

Shetland Museum celebrates Lerwick Up Helly Aa 2024

The Shetland Museum & Archives was full of activity last week as we celebrated Lerwick Up Helly Aa with a series of fiery events and ...

Read more

Shetland Amenity Trust’s heritage sites open for this year’s Up Helly Aa

The fiery season will soon be back and Shetland Amenity Trust is putting together a series of events as well as offering extended ...

Read more

Shetland's War Memorial - constructed by William Horne

Shetland’s War Memorial on Hillhead is now one hundred years old, and was rededicated with a ceremony on 6 January. The memorial ...

Read more

Christmas in Shetland - 1923

1923, like many of the years between the wars, was not a good one. The Shetland Times year end report spoke of a poor herring fishing, ...

Read more

Research project commissioned to encourage locals to grow more aets!

Shetland Amenity Trust has commissioned a research project with two local straw makers to understand more about the growing of ...

Read more