Working at Frankie’s fish and chip restaurant

Frankie's Ritz cafe
Frankie's Ritz cafe

You will have read the tributes in the Gazette recently to the man who ran one of South Shields most iconic seaside businesses.

Leslie Frankie, who, together with his brothers Joe and Maurice, ran Frankie’s fish and chip restaurants on the town’s North Beach and South Beach.

Today James Thompson tells of his days working at Frankie’s.

“When I was 16, in 1969, I worked for ‘Mr Frankie’ at his North Foreshore cafe,” revealed James, who now lives in Sunderland.

“I left Whitburn Secondary after the fifth year with about 11 others and we were transferred to Seaham Northlea school which allowed us to take “O” levels.

“After completing taking CSE’s at Whitburn Secondary school I looked for a summer job and was recommended to ask for a job as a waiter at Frankie’s Cafe.

“Mr Frankie set me on to start the next day. We mostly served cod and chips, haddock and chips and generous fry ups.

“When customers asked me or the other staff how long the haddock would be, meaning how long it would take to cook, Mr. Frankie would always reply that it would be this long, showing the size of the fish with his two forefingers. Ice cream was another good seller in the cafe.”

James said Mr Frankie liked a tidy cafe, remembering how “we had to ensure our tables were clean.

“Towards the end of the day, the cafe was well swept out to rid the floor of beach sand which inevitably came in with the customers.

“With decimalisation coming we had place mats on the tables informing customers of the new currency.

“As part of our wages we had a cod and chips dinner unless we wanted something else. If it was more expensive than cod and chips we had to pay the difference!

“Occasionally Mr Frankie’s mother used to help out selling to carry-out customers.

“She was slightly built and when she was there she used to tell her son when I collected my dinner, ‘ give him an extra portion of chips as he needs fattening up’.

“I was a very slim lad of 16 then, though it didn’t make much difference to me as I am not much bigger now that I am 63!

“I liked Mr Frankie’s mother, she was a really pleasant lady.”

James said the staff were issued with white coats to wear. The buttons were held in place with spent matches. The match was pushed through a small ring at the back of the button.

“One day I arrived at work early, there was preparation work to be done for the expected tourists/day-trippers .

“There was a lot of activity going on, the police and fire brigade were there because Colman’s beach cafe had burned down, Colman’s was to the left of Frankie’s as you looked toward the Groyne.

“I never did find out exactly what happened.

“Fortunately for us there was no damage to Mr Frankie’s cafe.

“I’ve had a bit of thought about staff members who worked there, the names that I can remember are Jean Gunn, the head waitress, Rose and Mary, who worked in the kitchen and one of the waiters called Danny Gilchrist, I got on well with him.

“All in all I had a great time working there.”

Leslie Frankie died in his sleep on February 7 at the age of 93.