Seaham institution Valente's cafe celebrates 100 years in the town

Three generations of the same family have been serving Seaham for 100 years as their cafe Valente’s marks a major milestone.

By Katy Wheeler
Monday, 20th July 2020, 4:45 pm
Valente's is 100 years old
Valente's is 100 years old

The Valente family brought their home-made ice creams to Seaham back in June 1920 when they opened a parlour in Viceroy Street and they soon became famous in the area for their cold sweet treats.

Frank and Carmela Valente founded the business, which has had two locations since that first parlour, and it’s been passed through the generations ever since.

Their granddaughter, Sue Dugan, owns the cafe today with sister Maria Blain. Speaking from Valente’s in Church Street, where it’s been for the past 60 years, Sue said: “When my grandparents opened in 1920 it was a new thing for the town and they became really well known for their ice creams.”

Susan Dugan with her dad Billy Matthews outside of Valentes Cafe Seaham Picture by FRANK REID

Before Sue took over the reins at Valente’s, it was run by her mum Vena Valente, who passed away in 2008, and Sue’s dad Billy Matthews.

Billy, now 93, was still making ice cream with the family recipe until six years ago and only stopped because his machine broke. But he does still have his Morris ice cream van which he’ll never part with.

Recalling how he became involved in the family business, where he met wife Vena, Billy said: "My friend had come back from the war and said he had a job for me driving an ice cream van. That was back in 1948 and I was 18 years old."

In 1932, Valente’s had moved to North Terrace in the building which is today Dempsey’s and at one time it had two sites: the North Terrace site run by Angie Dobson nee Valente and husband Peter, which closed 30 years ago, and the Church Street site.

Valente's Cafe founders: Carmela and Frank Valente pictured at their parlour in Seaham in the 1940s.

Sue said: “Back then North Terrace was the place to be, then Church Street, but Church Street is a lot quieter now and people go to North Terrace, it’s all gone full circle.”

Sue started working in the family business when she was 13-years-old and it’s been her job ever since.

"It’s all I’ve ever known and I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she explained. “When we had the ice cream vans when I was younger I remember all the drivers would come back to the house with the takings and my mam would cook for them all, she was a great cook.”

Today, Valente’s is open from 8am to 2pm Monday to Saturday for breakfasts and sandwiches, with social distancing measures in place.

Billy Matthews ran Valente's for decades and is famous for his ice cream.

Sue said: “The regulars have been coming here for decades and for many it’s their social life. We used to be open from 7am and we were one of the places open the earliest, people would be here at quarter to 7 ready for opening. When we closed for lockdown, people really missed it.”

The family business had planned a party at the cafe for the anniversary in June which couldn’t happen due to lockdown, but they were still able to have a small family celebration to raise a glass to 100 years of Valente’s.

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The Valente's Morris ice cream van

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Valentes Cafe Seaham 1978. Picture by FRANK REID
Susan Dugan serving a cake to her dad Billy Matthews at Valentes Cafe Seaham Picture by FRANK REID
Vena Valente 1940's Valente's Cafe Seaham
Joe Valentes 1940's Valente's Cafe Seaham