IT’S been closed for at least five years – but after years spent looking forlorn with its shutters down, the Bridge Cafe has been given a revamp and a new lease of life by entrepreneur Bakhtiar Essa.
The cafe, in the Bridge Shopping Centre in Fratton, which is connected to Asda, opened in November after a major investment and complete overhaul.
Bakhtiar, from Cosham, who is known as Essa, said he has been delighted with the response from customers and hopes that his cafe will be a friendly meeting point for all the community.
The 46-year-old former engineer jumped at the chance to set up his own business after seeing the potential at the Bridge Cafe.
Essa, a dad-of-two, said: ‘The cafe had been closed for at least five years when we took it over. We had to completely gut it. My children eat here, we eat here, so it had to be hygienic.
‘We had to strip everything out – from the roof to the floor. And buy all new machinery and equipment, table and chairs, everything was new.
‘People can’t believe it. We have such a good connection with the community now.’
Essa’s wife Sarah also works at the cafe - and he has employed a further four staff members.
The cafe is offering a range of hot food, including breakfasts and roast dinners, snacks, cakes and coffees.
A breakfast including tea or coffee costs £5.20 and a roast dinner on a Sunday costs just £5.50.
Essa, who moved to Portsmouth from Iran in 2001 to complete a master’s degree at the University of Portsmouth, said: ‘It is affordable. That was important to us as we are competing with the likes of Wetherspoon and Subway.’
Essa has introduced table service and prides himself on having a large seating area which has already proved popular with community groups.
He said: ‘It is not just about money to us. It is about being part of the community, bringing people in and creating a meeting point.’
He also hopes that his investment will spur other businesses to take residence in the many empty units at the shopping centre.
‘People have lots of memories of the shopping centre. It is the heart of Fratton. Hopefully this will start something,’ he said.