Michael and Nancy Kavalieros have run River Breeze, in Pier Road, for 21 years and have made a lot of friends along the way, with many long-standing regular customers.
They took the difficult decision to close the restaurant on October 3 and rather than selling it on as a business, they will be returning it to two separate shop units with flats above before putting it on the market.
Michael said: “Lockdown made us think and gave us perspective on life. It was the final straw. We have three lovely grandchildren and we want to be with them.”
Nancy added: “The customers are all heartbroken. We had been talking about retiring for the past five years and every season, we said we would do another one.
“We had such a hard year with staff because hospitality has suffered so much, they all went on to other things.”
Michael was six when his family moved to the UK from Cyprus in 1962 and Nancy came over from Ireland in 1970. They met in West London and ran a restaurant in Selsey Bill in 1973 before returning to London and getting married.
They had two daughters and, looking to get the family out of the city, they moved to Littlehampton to take over The Royal restaurant when their youngest was just two days old.
Michael said: “I always wanted to be my own boss. I had been a chef for many years and worked all over the West End. It was just a case of finding the right place to settle down.”
They ran The Royal for nine years but when they were unable to buy the freehold, as they wanted, Michael and Nancy left and moved to Middlesex.
As it happened, they were soon offered the opportunity to buy River Breeze and jumped at the chance, desperate to get back to Littlehampton, a town they loved.
They wanted the river view and set about creating a restaurant that would be ‘a meeting place for the locals’.
It has been hard work and long hours, with the restaurant open seven days a week. Although they did not start serving until 10am, they were in the kitchen from 7am prepping and with a 7pm closing time, it was often gone 9pm before they were upstairs, back home in the flat above.
Having a good bunch of staff helped, many of them young people in their first jobs.
Michael said: “We put quite a lot through university and they often came back to see us. Some of their children we have had working for us, too. They start on the ice-cream at 16 and go from there.”
Nancy, who worked mainly front of house, said she will miss the social life but not the hard work.
“We have served the public and it has been great,” she said. “Because we worked so many long hours, it became our social life as well.”
Michael will miss ‘the banter’ and ‘the brilliant atmosphere’. With the open-plan kitchen, it was easy for him to chat with the customers as he cooked for them, with liver and bacon, pies and roasts among their favourites.
He said at 66, he wants ‘a bit of normality’. The couple, who celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary on October 31, would like to travel more and Michael will find time for golf but he will also look to organise some charity nights in the future.