The owner of a much-loved cafe has confirmed plans to sell up and retire – marking the end of a love affair lasting almost half a century.
Ken Vreony has fed punters in Folkestone from his Hillside Cafe in George Lane since 1975.
Now, the 81-year-old finally looks set to step away from the business and sell the property, as he hopes to move back to his native Cyprus.
Discussing his decision to call time on his working days, Mr Vreony told KentOnline: “The most important thing is my age. I want to go back home for the last few years of my life.
“Sixty-three years in this country – I’ve been working here ever since. It’s not believable!
“It’s sad on one side but it [retiring] has got to happen.
“I have lost a brother and three sisters over the last 10 years back home. I only have one brother and one sister left so I am going back to spend a bit of time with them.”
Mr Vreony first moved to England in 1960 where he had hoped to raise enough money – around £500 – to open his own eatery back home in Paphos.
When he first arrived in the UK, he originally went by Kyriacos but was renamed Ken by his wife Julie, who died 12 years ago.
The Cypriot embraced his new identity – even putting his name on signage above the cafe last year after years of loyal customers suggesting he do so.
Over the decades both his children and grandchildren have worked shifts at the cafe.
Previous hopes of leaving his beloved business behind proved to be harder than planned, with his first retirement in 2007 lasting less than a year before he returned due to popular demand.
Mr Vreony’s return didn’t go unnoticed, with our sister paper the Kentish Express running a full page featuring signs in the cafe windows made by his daughter declaring “Ken is Back”.
But Mr Vreony’s cafe has stuck to its traditional values, offering classic British staples – as the picture of him on the wall holding a freshly-baked bread and butter pudding attests to.
He says Folkestone is “a lovely, nice small town” which has treated him well.
“It’s changed a lot but it’s like every town which has changed a lot. The big shops have moved out of town,” said the father-of-four.
“I didn’t like London. I moved to Coventry and Nottingham and Birmingham but in 1967 we moved to Folkestone.
“Less and less people are coming to town – when I came here in 1975 I would use 20 sacks of potatoes a week, 25 in the summer.
“Now this summer it was only three or four.
“It’s understandable when there’s so many cafes as competition. But we’re still doing alright – it’s still a good business to run.”
The George Lane property is currently listed for sale at £440,000 and will be sold as a vacant commercial premises – though Ken will continue to run the cafe until the sale goes through.
The building in the heart of the town centre is accompanied by two one-bedroom flats and a studio with estate agents estimating these could bring a rental income of more than £1,500 a month.
Having dedicated more than half his life to food and hospitality, Ken spoke of his love for his customers – declaring it one of the key reasons he has stuck it out for so long.
He said: “The little cafe/restaurant I have here has been very good. We’ve had regular customers coming here for more than 40 years.
“There are two kinds of people – the ones who get up in the morning and smile and are happy to see other people and the ones who wake up and say: ‘Who am I going to upset today?’
“I enjoy communicating with people. When you work in a building you cannot talk to the walls – only the people.”