Mel Houli’s family have dominated fish and chips in Melbourne’s west for over thirty-five years – so it was almost inevitable that Mel would carry on the family business.
Immigrated from Lebanon
“My Dad immigrated from Lebanon in the 1970s and started a fish and chip shop in Williamstown in 1987. I took over Under the Sea in Yarraville in 1997, and my two cousins each own a fish and chip shop in Newport,” smiles Mel.
Looking back, it’s no surprise that Mel would become the owner of Under the Sea even though he trained as an electrical mechanic. But his family were initially against the idea.
It was really rough
“Back in ‘97, Yarraville wasn’t what it is today. It was really rough; you wouldn’t want to go out at night. There were probably ten or fifteen empty shops in the village. But I had learned the trade while working with my Dad, and I thought I could branch out on my own. So I asked him to trust me.”
Mel’s family put their house on the line to finance the purchase, and Mel gave himself three years to make a go of the business.Twenty-five years later, Under the Sea is a beloved institution in Yarraville Village and a whole family affair.
“Even though my parents are retired Dad still goes to the wholesale market at 4am to source the fresh fish because he knows everyone there. He loves it!” laughs Mel. “My mum cooks the rice for our popular protein, rice and salad packs, and my wife is responsible for the salad bar. Plus at any time you’ll see me, my brother-in-law, my kids or my nephews and nieces working at the store.”
While fresh seafood is obviously the mainstay of Under the Sea, if you’re not in the mood for fish, then Mel recommends the falafels as they are hand-made using his Mum’s recipe. The tartare sauce, potato cakes and lamb burgers are other signature menu items.
“I can’t give you the secret to my delicious tartare sauce,” Mel winks. “But the reason the other items are so good is because we hand-cut our potato cakes using good quality potatoes and the lamb burgers are made with premium A-grade lamb mince.”
Connection to the community
Mel thinks that the other reason Under the Sea has thrived is because of their connection to the community.
“We’ve been in Yarraville for a long time and everyone knows us in the area. Kids who used to be in prams now visit us as adults and stop for a chat. I love Yarraville; I think it’s a really unique place.”