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Family affair . . . Bevan (left), Sandra, Garry and Gay Smith outside Bean on Thames. Bevan and Sandra will take over from Garry and Gay, who have decided to retire, later this month. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

Oamaru’s Garry and Gay Smith can relax in the knowledge Bean on Thames is going to be in safe hands when the couple retire later this month.

The couple have owned Bean on Thames since 2008, after previously running Willetts Bakery and Tearooms, just a few doors down the road, for 20 years before that.

Taking over later this month are Bevan Smith, the couple’s son, and wife Sandra.

Garry said it was time to move on after three decades of early starts.

“I’d like to do a bit of fishing and travel, and not getting up at four in the morning. Just spending a bit of the money I have earned over the years and hoping it doesn’t run out.”

For Gay, it was more a case of forced retirement.

“I knew it would come one day.”

The story of how the couple got into the industry to start with is an interesting one.

Willetts Bakery and Tearooms had been operating from its Thames St premises since the business was bought by Matilda Willetts in 1920.

There were another three owners before the business was bought by Gay and Garry in 1987.

“I wanted to buy a guy’s house and on the off chance, the agent said, ‘You might want to buy his bakery’,” Garry recalled.

“I forgot about the house and went and bought the bakery. Ironically, I went and bought the house later on and I’m still there.”

After 20 years, he and Gay wanted to try something a little different with a more modern twist.

It was then Bean on Thames was born.

While the couple are about to say goodbye, the family link will remain strong.

“It’s just so lovely Bevan came back,” Gay said.

“We wouldn’t have just sold it to anyone because we’re quite proud of our business. People in Oamaru and our customers see what we’re doing, and Bevan and Sandra will be doing the same.”

Bevan, a qualified baker and safety cook, spent six years in England, where he worked for Baker and Spice, a highly-rated bakery and cafe in London, before he returned to Oamaru to work with his parents.

He then left for Perth, where he worked in the hospitality and mining industry.

While there, he met Sandra, originally from Colombia, and started a family.

“I never really honestly thought about taking this over,” Bevan said.

” I thought about getting back into hospitality. Then they came over for a holiday and mentioned they were selling. The big question was if Sandra would be able to handle living in Oamaru.”

Obviously, the answer was yes.

Asked if there would be any major changes, Bevan was quick to reassure Bean regulars one of the cafe’s most popular items would remain on the menu.

“We will still be doing mutton pies and we’ll still be doing the old favourites.”

Garry and Gay will be on hand to support Bevan and Sandra though the handover process.

Looking back, Garry said he would miss Bean, especially the baking side of the job.

“I think it will just be the people . . . having conversations and giving good service.”