ANYONE who has been on Southend’s Golden Mile lately might have noticed the lovely old “Offredi’s Corner House” sign above a vacant shop.

The sign, which emerged after a betting shop quit the seafront shop, really is a blast from the past.

It sits above what was once one of the most popular cafes in Southend and is a relic from an era when life really was different.

Offredi’s was the place daytrippers flocked to as soon as their charabanc or coach pulled up in the town on a beano from the East End of London.

It was run by the Italian Offredi family who came to Southend in the late 1800s and opened their first cafe in Marine Parade.

The family (later changing their name to Offord) became a hit and before long, they had catering shops, bakeries and cafes around the High Street.

There was also a second venue in Marine Parade which operated an ice cream parlour and confectionist.

But the most bustling of them all was the venue at 37 Marine Parade.

Richard Offord, a member of the Offredi family, who worked in the cafes for many years, said: “The Marine Parade cafe was what was known as ‘the party shop’.

“It was where everybody came for their fish and chips and their ice creams when they got to Southend on daytrips.

“It was so busy, the family never needed to advertise. There were queues around the block most days.

“The coaches would stop off on the A127 at the Fortune of War so everyone was pretty well oiled before they even arrived in Southend!)”

Richard, 85, is the grandson of the Offredi family patriarch, Luigi Offredi, who founded the business and brought his family, including his six children, to the town from the east end of London.

Richard has fond memories of growing up in a family business and of working in the cafes.

“Back then everyone helped each other a lot more,” he said. “Businesses looked out for each other and if you needed something you clubbed together and shared resources.

“I don’t ever remember there being any bad rivalry. All the Italian families working in the hospitality industry got on well – everyone did. There was an unwritten rule that you didn’t try to poach anyone’s business but nobody did.

“When I was running one of the cafes in the High Street in the 1960s we had some very attractive waitresses and we’d often get the bingo club boss coming over and saying: ‘can we borrow a few of you waitresses for a few hours?’

“Once all the young men saw the girls working they’d follow them into the bingo hall, then they’d head back to us later so it all worked out well! “

Richard, from Leigh, added: “The police were such a visible presence in the town then. Every night two police constables would come round the back of our bakery shop, rattle the grill outside to let the staff know to put the kettle on then walk round the block on a patrol and head back for a cuppa. They were always engaging with the staff.”

Richard says his grandfather was an exceptional man, adding: “I have one vivid memory of my grandfather. Apparently he used to sit me on his knee, dip his finger in his gin and tonic then put it in my mouth and let me taste it. That must be where my love for G&T comes from.”

He was a brilliant man, he came from over Italy with nothing and created a hugely successful family business with sheer hard work.

“From the earliest days the family totally integrated into the community. They learnt the language, they adopted the customs, they married local girls, they drank beer and they fought in both world wars. They were true Southenders.”

Luigi died in 1938 at the age of 86. The Offredi family sold their cafes and shops off in 1972 as Southend experienced a decline in tourism and daytrippers.

As for the nostalgic sign, Richard believes it will most likely be covered over by a new business soon: “It’s lovely to see but unfortunately I think it would be pretty impossible to remove it as a keepsake,” he said.

“We have plenty of memories of the business anyway.”