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Time to say goodbye to Big Vern’s but hello to Sands...

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ONE of the Island’s best-known beachside cafés is under new management and the new proprietor says he has a hard act to follow.

Picture:DAVID FERGUSON. (23756702)

Big Vern’s Diner in St Ouen’s Bay started the new year with a makeover after its founder, Paul McBride, handed over the keys to Joe and Natalie Davies, who also run Little Joe’s Shop and Surf School next door.

The couple, who have two daughters, Robin and Hazel, have also taken over Discovery Bay self-catering apartments, while Mr McBride is concentrating on his other business, Corbière Phare.

Big Vern’s closed its doors on New Year’s Eve and reopened seven days later with new decor and under its previous name, Sands.

‘We are going to try to live up to the reputation that has grown around Big Vern’s, but Paul is a hard act to follow,’ Mr Davies said.

‘We realise that we are taking on what has become a local institution for lots of people, but we will be a family-run business that focuses on service and trying to do the best we can.’

Mr Davies is well known in the Island’s surfing community but he comes from a farming family from St Martin. His father, Billy, runs the Just William fruit and veg stall in the Central Market. He has two sisters – Country music singer Frankie Davies and former British ladies’ surf champion Grace Crake, who runs The Farm School Initiative at the family farm.

The family mucks in, helping with each of the business ventures, as does mum Frances – and Joe’s in-laws.

‘We really believe that this Island is an amazing tourist destination and we are in the best of positions in the middle of the bay,’ Mr Davies said. ‘I believe that tourists still want to come to Jersey, and with so many hotel beds being lost everywhere we very much want to keep the ones we have here.’

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Mr McBride took over the beachside premises 27 years ago when it was the in-house burger bar for Sands nightclub, a popular venue in the 1970s and 80s, but it had been attracting dancers and drinkers long before that under the name of The Tropicana. Before becoming a night spot, a garage, known as The High Tower, occupied the site.

Explaining why he renamed the business, Mr McBride said: ‘When I first started in 1991 it was very dirty and tatty and when you used to say “Sands” people used to cringe, so that is why I changed the name.

‘The Viz comics were really big at the time and Big Vern was a paranoid gangster who was popular among the kids.

‘I had been struggling to work out what to call it, but one night I went out with friends and I decided on Big Vern’s – and that is how it came about.’

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Mr McBride added that he had accumulated ‘thousands’ of funny stories over the years, including dealing with one customer during the early 90s who swore at him because his sandwiches were ‘too big’.

‘I will miss it. It has been my life for nearly 28 years,’ he said. ‘I will miss the people the most – there are some who were there when I started and still go now, but I am no spring chicken and it is time to let Joe have a go.

‘I wish him all the best and I will be here if he needs any help but I am sure he won’t – I am sure he will do better than me.’

Paula Thelwell

By Paula Thelwell
author

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