A town centre venue is celebrating 20 years in Huddersfield - and everyone’s invited to the party.
Setting up the Rock Cafe was an ambitious venture for owner Richard Downey, but one for which he was well-prepared.
Richard’s father Barry was steeped in the leisure industry, starting out as a dance teacher and principal for Victor Sylvester in Brighton before opening his own dance school in premises at Kirkgate in Huddersfield.
In the early 1970s, he extended it to cover two floors at Waverley Chambers and eventually transformed the operation into the popular Huddersfield venue the Starlight, which opened in 1959. He finally came out of the business in the mid-1980s.
Richard said: “I was practically brought up at the Starlight and I spent a lot of time there. The industry is in my blood and I’m still passionate about it.”
Richard’s involvement in the industry led him to set up a business staging children’s discos at venues such as The Adega in Huddersfield and other nightspots in Halifax, Leeds and Bradford before going UK-wide to venues including ones in Newcastle, Nottingham, Derby and London.
The idea for an American-themed bar came as Richard walked down Watford high street and past one of the first Chicago Rock outlets in the country.
“I was travelling up and down the M1 on a regular basis,” said Richard. “I was getting a bit older and I wanted to find a venue that was more permanent and one I could call my own. I had learned a lot from working in other people’s clubs up and down the country I saw very good operators and very poor operators and I knew I could use my marketing skills and experience to buy into that.”
The former Examiner building at Victoria Lane provided a location with plenty of space for Richard’s plans.
After a lot of work and expense to carry out the necessary alterations - and a long drawn out legal battle over its licence application – the Rock Cafe was created.
Now it extends over two floors and attracts a broad clientele ranging from students to pensioners. “We get 20-year-olds dancing alongside people in their 50s,” said Richard.”We get young women who request Dirty Dancing and older women who want to hear Rhianna. We have people in their 70s who have been coming here for all of our 20 years.
“We get 1,700 people in over the course of Friday nights and 1,400 on Saturdays. We are all things to all people.”
Said Richard: “It was something new in Huddersfield and we have managed to keep it going.”
He said the Rock Cafe, which employs 22 part-time and three full-time staff, had remained successful by maintaining standards. operating a “good” door policy and ensuring people had a good time.
Other features to set it apart from “corporate” operators included using fresh food and freshley-prepared food on its menus.
The venue celebrates its 20th birthday on Friday, September 26, with a champagne reception and canapes, extending into the evening with singer Reece Cannon, of The Drifters, stilt walkers, confetti cannons and balloons.