A CAFE owner who started his working life with one ice cream van as a 17-year-old is to retire at the age of 71.

Darlington café owner Stephen Valente is selling his business to spend more time improving his 14 handicap at the Durham City Golf Club, where he’s now senior captain.

He has owned and managed Café Valente since 2006, started his catering career with his family’s business when he was 17. He began in Bishop Auckland with one ice cream van, building it up to nine ice cream vans and a factory.

He bought his first café in Hartlepool, opened Visions Wine Bar and went on to his biggest adventure building Newton Grange Hotel in Durham City, which he ran for 10 years, before selling to a large brewery.

It was at that point that he decided to buy Wade’s coffee shop and bistro which he owns and runs as Café Valente with his wife Dorothy and a team of dedicated staff.

He is now planning to retire, swapping the lunchtime rush for the fairway. He is selling the café with business broker Hilton Smythe to concentrate on his role at Durham City Golf Club.

Mr Valente has been an enthusiastic golf player since he was 18 years old and although he has thoroughly enjoyed building up Café Valente, after fifty plus years in catering and hospitality, he feels now is the time for him to relax and enjoy planning holidays and golf tournaments.

He said: “I’m sad to be selling Café Valente, because it’s been my life for the past 13 years, but Hilton Smythe is being incredibly supportive in finding a new owner. With the team organising the sale, I can start to relax and plan an enjoyable retirement.

“When I was younger my handicap was only nine but now it’s 14 and I want to concentrate on getting it back to single figures.”

Gareth Smyth, chief executive of Hilton Smythe Group, said: “Stephen has worked hard and created something special with Café Valente. I’m sure the people of Darlington will be sad to see him hang up his apron, but they’ll be happy to hear he’s going to enjoy his retirement.