Viva’s £1m resort boost - new look for former Harry Ramsden's

Eric Dent prepares to launch Viva Vegas Diner
Eric Dent prepares to launch Viva Vegas Diner
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An all-American taste of entertainment, food and drink is set to be served up at a new Blackpool venue.

The Viva Vegas Diner will open next week, as part of a £1.2million investment by the team behind Viva Blackpool.

Inside the new Viva Vegas Diner

Inside the new Viva Vegas Diner

The ground-floor outlet will seat 160 people in the restaurant area, as well as offering a bar and takeaway counter.

Finishing touches to the new-look venue are being completed ahead of a friends and families night tomorrow, and a preview event for invited guests on Monday.

Viva managing director Martin Heywood said despite some delays, the diner would be ready for the public next week.

“The concept behind the diner is a modern take on an American diner,” Martin said. “We could’ve gone authentic American which would’ve done well, but looking at places in Manchester and Liverpool, like Almost Famous, show that kind of food is developing into something more - and we wanted to bring that to Blackpool and do something new.

Inside the new Viva Vegas Diner

Inside the new Viva Vegas Diner

“The entertainment side of things will find its feet.

“There’s a hugely popular place in New York called Ellen’s Stardust Diner which is one of the most YouTubed places in the world - with the waiters and waitresses all being Broadway-standard performers.

“And we said ‘Why can’t that be Blackpool?’ We have a great in-house cast, but we don’t want it to be too in your face, it’s a more laid back version we’re creating.”

Harry Ramsden’s fish and chip restaurant moved out of the Promenade site and into the former Tower Lounge last summer, and the team at Viva Blackpool announced their plans for the ground floor space below their cabaret venue in April.

Inside the new Viva Vegas Diner

Inside the new Viva Vegas Diner

The diner has been decked out in Viva’s purple colour-scheme, with a bar area playing host to house band The Fremonts and a secondary stage for singers and dancers will pop up throughout the venue.

Booth tables are designed to look like Cadillac cars, and an American-style campervan will serve up late night bar snacks and takeaway treats to Promenade passers by.

The diner will be serving breakfast from 9am to 11.30am, and its main menu through until 11pm.

Diner general manager Eric Dent said: “We do have a 3am licence but we’re not looking to use it other than for specific events.

“If a show upstairs finishes around 11pm we’ll encourage them to have a drink downstairs, but we’re not looking to the late night clubbing audience.

“Once the band finishes playing, we expect people will move on or go home.”

Among the staff recruited for the new diner are chef Thomas Simkin – who returns to Blackpool after spending the past 15 years living and working in Florida.

“Thomas has been a fantastic find,” Eric said. “He’s originally from Blackpool but has worked in venues like this in America – he even has an American accent.”

Also joining the team are singers Reece Oliver and Helen Scott. Reece has been a guest performer at Viva for the past 18 months and is now an exclusive act there, while Helen joins the cast from London.

Eric has been working for Viva for nine months, getting settled into the business as acting manager and food and beverage manager before moving on to the diner project, where he’s worked closely with managing director Martin Heywood and entertainment director Leye D Johns.

His previous experience includes the Burlington on Lytham Road, managing Pizza Hut at Preston New Road, Toast in Blackpool and St Annes and the Beach House.

“One of the biggest reasons to come into this job was the opportunity to work on opening a venue from scratch,” he said.

“I have managed really nice places and been really proud of the jobs I’ve had, but the opportunity to take a place right from the beginning was something I couldn’t miss out on.

“I’ve had even more input than I’d imagined. While Martin looked after the build, I have been doing behind the scenes work, things like the food and drinks menus and working with suppliers. I can’t wait now to get this unique venue for Blackpool open now.”

Viva Blackpool opened in 2012 and now employs more than 65 people, paying the living wage, and hosts shows 365 days a year.

The site of the new diner – directly below Viva Blackpool – was vacated by Harry Ramsden’s when the chain moved into new premises at the former Tower Lounge, which opened in July last year.

Martin said reaction to their plans had been positive from existing customers and fellow businesses in the town, as well as attracting new potential customers to the venue.

“When something new is announced, it’s often the case that people are looking for the cracks,” he said. “But from what I’ve heard from our customers, they are looking forward to seeing something different and something extra – they want to come to the diner in addition to and not instead of Viva.”

And he’s hoping local residents will come out to support the venture, as well as tourists and visiting guests.

“As a town in general, we all need to see more support from local people coming out to the arts and commercial venues,” he said.

“There are brilliant places on our doorstops. We are putting more and more shows on by artists who are really well known - the likes of Lee Nelson, Brian Conley and Joe Pasquale – these shows are for everyone, not just tourists.”