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.

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