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From caravan burgers to a Norwich institution: The rise of Zaks restaurant

PUBLISHED: 10:59 03 February 2020 | UPDATED: 13:47 03 February 2020

Coming around again: Ian Hacon pictured at Zaks in 2005. He is now taking over the business after buying it with Chris Carr. Pic: Archant library

Coming around again: Ian Hacon pictured at Zaks in 2005. He is now taking over the business after buying it with Chris Carr. Pic: Archant library

The sale of Zaks, one of Norwich’s best-loved restaurants, has sparked lots of happy memories of those who have dined there over the decades. But how did it all start?

Zaks in Thetford. Pic: Archant libraryZaks in Thetford. Pic: Archant library

Zaks has been a part of people's lives in Norwich since 1976. It all started when local musician and entrepreneur Harvey Platt had the idea to bring a slice of America to Norwich after visiting San Francisco to meet up with his former musician buddies.

Mr Platt had the opportunity to purchase an old café caravan situated on Farmers Avenue near Castle Meadow in Norwich next to the old cattle market which is now the Vue cinema (Castle Quarter) and that's where the story began.

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Zaks burger van at farmers Avenue in 1980. Pic; Archant libraryZaks burger van at farmers Avenue in 1980. Pic; Archant library

Zaks opened in May 1976 serving the now-famous chargrilled burgers in the 'Original Zaks Caravan' wrapped in tin foil and cooked fresh to order in the American tradition. It became the meeting place for people after a night out in Norwich and has a fond place in people's memories - for many Zaks was Norwich's original street food.

From the success of the original caravan in 1978, the Zaks restaurant opened its doors in Mousehold Heath in Norwich in 1979. In the mid 1980s the caravan closed but in 1988, Zaks Waterside opened on the banks of the River Wensum in Barrack Street opposite the Norwich landmark Cow Tower.

A decade on in 1998, Mr Patt passed over the reins of the Norwich restaurants to the family-run business Blue Sky Leisure and added Zaks Poringland in 2005 and Zaks Thetford in 2015. All restaurants are going strong apart from Thetford which closed last year.

Harvey Platt founder of the Zaks burger restaurant empire - pictured with one of his guitars he plays and his Wurlitzer  jukebox, pictured in 2003.  Picture: Archant libraryHarvey Platt founder of the Zaks burger restaurant empire - pictured with one of his guitars he plays and his Wurlitzer jukebox, pictured in 2003. Picture: Archant library

The reins have now been passed to its former leadership team (who ran the business collectively from 2005 to 2016), Ian Hacon and Chris Carr, acquiring the business for an undisclosed sum in a friendly acquisition.

Mr Hacon, who originally trained as a chartered accountant, spent 15 years working at Zaks' parent company, Blue Sky Leisure, including nine years as chief executive.

The Surf 'N Turf burger meal at  Zaks in Poringland in 2006. Pic: Archant libraryThe Surf 'N Turf burger meal at Zaks in Poringland in 2006. Pic: Archant library

Chris Carr has more than 25 years' experience in the hospitality sector, and he led Zaks for 10 years up to 2016.

Do you have fond memories of Zaks? Email your photos and stories to caroline.culot@archant.co.uk

Zaks in Poringland. Pic: Archant libraryZaks in Poringland. Pic: Archant library

Zaks burger van at farmers Avenue in 1982. Pic: Archant libraryZaks burger van at farmers Avenue in 1982. Pic: Archant library

Zaks waterside grill and bar in Norwich pictured in 2009. Photo: Archant libraryZaks waterside grill and bar in Norwich pictured in 2009. Photo: Archant library

Coming around again. Ian Hacon pictured in 2003 at Zaks. He has just taken over the business with Chris Carr. Pic: Archant libraryComing around again. Ian Hacon pictured in 2003 at Zaks. He has just taken over the business with Chris Carr. Pic: Archant library

The massive queue for a burger at the replica Zaks burger van, as Zaks celebrated it's 40th anniversary outside the Forum in 2016. Pic: Archant libraryThe massive queue for a burger at the replica Zaks burger van, as Zaks celebrated it's 40th anniversary outside the Forum in 2016. Pic: Archant library

What people love about Zaks. Pic: Archant libraryWhat people love about Zaks. Pic: Archant library

You may also want to watch:

When Zaks launched its new healthy menu in 2005. Pic: Archant libraryWhen Zaks launched its new healthy menu in 2005. Pic: Archant library

Zaks Diner Poringland after a £50,000 refurbishment. Pic: Archant libraryZaks Diner Poringland after a £50,000 refurbishment. Pic: Archant library

Zaks  the way it was. Photos: Pete Sexton/Archant libraryZaks  the way it was. Photos: Pete Sexton/Archant library

Zaks  the way it was. Photos: Pete Sexton/Archant libraryZaks  the way it was. Photos: Pete Sexton/Archant library


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