THE doors have closed on one of Portaferry’s best known businesses.
Joe’s Hot Spot, which has been very much part of the fabric of The Square, will soon be no more after its proprietor, Joe Boyle, announced his intention to retire from the business.
The fast food outlet has provided sustenance to the people of Portaferry and wider Ards peninsula for almost four decades since Mr Boyle moved to the loughshore town in 1985. He took over the business with the intention of staying for two years, but very soon he took the community to heart and chose to make Portaferry his permanent home.
Originally from Cushendall, Mr Boyle was one of a family of eight children, and counts himself as very fortunate to have a father who was ‘very good to me’. “My father was a professional and my parents denied themselves luxuries in their own life to do the best they could for us,” he recalled.
Mr Boyle boarded at St Colmans College, Newry and then St MacNissis College, Garron Tower to the north of the village of Carnlough on the Antrim coast.
After leaving school Mr Boyle tried his hand at being a chef and a baker before meeting and marrying his wife, Sinead, and moving to Portaferry, adding that the two years they had planned to spend in the town turned into 38 and the
place they chose to raise their three children.
“Portaferry has been really great to me – it is a great community and a great place and I just felt I could settle here,” he added.
“When I went into it I knew I had to be there and I had to work it,” Mr Boyle said of his fledgling business. “It was eight years before I got away for the weekend”.
One of the main events in Portaferry is the float night at the end of the gala week and it is one of the busiest nights of the year at Joe’s Hot Spot as they cater for the many visitors who descend on the town.
“They have all been an experience in their own right for different reasons,” he said, adding that on float night people could have come into Joe’s Hot Spot at 3am and still got something to eat. “We had a reputation for being the latest place open on the Ards peninsula,” Mr Boyle said.
“At the weekends you were always able to come to Portaferry up until 1am or later, and to at least 11pm, during the week and still get something to eat”.
In 2005, Mr Boyle was elected as an SDLP councillor onto Ards Borough Council to represent the people of the Ards peninsula.
“My business and the council were two separate issues and I wanted to keep them separate,” he said. Referring to the recent local government election, he said: “The people in the peninsula decided they would put up with me for another four years and I thank them for that, but this is a different aspect of my life”.
Reflecting on his customer base, Mr Boyle explained he is now in many cases serving the third generation of the same family. “The granny, mum and now along comes the grandchildren for their meals,” he said. “That feels special”.
Mr Boyle said he had enjoyed a lot of good experiences in the shop and got to meet interesting people. “We get customers from all over the world, some of whom return every two or three years,” he said.
Portaferry, Mr Boyle believes, has ‘come on’ over the last four decades and was ‘doing well at the moment’. He said was due to the numerous organisations, such as Portaferry Regeneration, which have been established through the years and which ‘have contributed to the betterment of the town’.
Every household in Portaferry, he explained, consisted of at least one tradesman or woman. “When things are going well in construction we all tend to do well, when they are not we all suffer – the restaurants, bars and coffee shops,” The dark period of the Covid pandemic, he said, was his most difficult in business. “We weren’t sure where any of us would go,” he recalled.
Paying tribute to his staff and customers he added: “I had terrific support from the community in the shop who stood by me. It has been a great experience and I enjoyed every moment of it”.
He said his wife Sinead had ‘reminded me nicely’ that he had said he would retire when he was 60. “I am now 63 and three years over my quota. I have a couple of grandchildren that I love to bits and love to see more of them – I would like to get out for the school run and pick them up”.
Continuing he said he was moving on to the next phase of his life he said he would never say he was entirely finished with business.
“It is difficult to cut that link completely so I will take time out and assess myself and what is going on,” he said.
Saying the closure of the Joe’s Hot Spot marked the end of a ‘very enjoyable journey’, he added: “I’ll look around to see if there is another journey in front of me.”
Thanking customers, staff and all the people he got to know over the years, he also thanked his family and in particular his wife Sinead for standing by the business.
“During the early years in many ways she became a single parent as I was so involved in the business and I had brought her down here with no relatives,” he added.
“But we both rolled our sleeves up and got on with it – it worked out well and we are still around to talk about it”.