Retro Sport: Never buy an upstairs restaurant!

Torbay Weekly

In the early 1960s, before Chinese and Indian restaurants offered late night meals in Torquay, young men like me would leave the night clubs soon after midnight, and 'go for a Greek'.

My own favourite Greek restaurant was just off Fleet Street, and run by Joe Ellinas, who hailed from Cyprus.

Joe had come to England after World War Two, and had opened a restaurant in Weston-super-Mare before he could speak a word of English.

“My cooking does my talking,” he used to say.

Later in life, he opened a restaurant in Soho, before coming to Torquay.

Joe and I became very good friends, and we would meet for a coffee whenever we could.

One day in 1972, I told him that I wanted to form a Victorian football team called the Torbay Gentlemen. He loved football, and was keen to become involved.

“If we are going to invite opponents back for drinks, or a meal, where will we take them?” he asked.

“Where will we hold our meetings and hang our photos?”

They were good questions, of course, but I had no immediate answers.

“We need our own restaurant,” he said.

“We will buy it together. I will run it, my wife, and sister-in-law, will do the cooking, and you can do the books, and supply free fruit and veg!”

He was right, of course. We had every advantage, and even a built-in customer base!

He added: “If we have no customers one night, we can have a meal together, and share a bottle of wine!”

I was finally won over to the idea.

The search for a restaurant began, and it wasn’t long before we settled on a first-floor business in Vaughan Parade, looking right over the harbour.

It was perfect in that it had the right number of covers, and also a big room above which we could use for our club headquarters... but it had drawbacks too.

Joe had never run an 'upstairs' restaurant, and warned that potential diners liked to see inside before deciding whether to come in!

And the kitchen was on the second floor, so it might be hard to keep food hot before serving it.

Eventually, we loved the view, and the room, so much that we let our hearts rule our heads, and, in June 1976, the Torbay Gentleman Restaurant was born.

During the months which followed, we worked like demons, and, by September, we had employed two well-known local waiters, George Sofroni, and George Savva, both of whom we knew well.

We decided that we would open for lunch on September 27 so that we could try out all the new systems before being too busy.

Joe hoped for about 30 customers.

At 11.30am, on the morning of September 27, our new clapper-board was out on the pavement to tell passers-by that we were upstairs and ready for them.

We all held our breath.

I was in my office at work, but at midday I rang Joe with fingers crossed.

“How is it?” I asked.

“No-one yet, Roger, but it’s still early,” he replied.

My heart sank, but I felt sure that the rush would soon come.

I decided to delay phoning until he was sure to have better news, and tried again at 1.30pm.

“Still not one customer!” said Joe, almost in tears.

“I think we have made a terrible mistake by buying an upstairs place!”

I felt so sorry for him that I left the office, jumped into my car, and rushed down to the harbour.

It was a sunny day, and I had to push my way through the crowds before reaching Vaughan Parade.

Our clapper-board was in the middle of the pavement, and I wondered how so many people could have ignored it, until I looked closer at its message!

In bold letters, Joe had written 'Lunches been served' instead of 'lunches being served'.

When I went upstairs, we all had a good laugh at Joe’s expense, of course.

He defended himself by saying: “Well! it sounds the same! Anyway, my cooking does my talking and my spelling!”

In the longer term the restaurant proved to be a huge success with all our members, and visiting football teams.

It was just the first day that was such a disaster!