Well-known Ipswich restaurant owner set to celebrate 100th birthday

Ken Oatley, proprietor of The Oriental restaurant in Ipswich, will be celebrating his 100th birthday

Ken Oatley, proprietor of The Oriental restaurant in Ipswich, will be celebrating his 100th birthday - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

For many people in Ipswich, Ken Oatley will be a familiar face as the proprietor of The Oriental Restaurant in Westgate Street. 

The business was a focal point in the 1950s and 60s for family occasions and did a busy weekday lunch trade for shoppers, businessmen and the farming community on market days.   

However, the great-grandfather, who still lives in Ipswich, has had a long and interesting life and will be celebrating his 100th birthday on March 24. 

Westgate Street, Ipswich in January 1965 with the Oriental restaurant on the right. 

Westgate Street, Ipswich in January 1965, with the Oriental restaurant on the right. - Credit: Dave Kindred

Mr Oatley was born and grew up in Frome where his parents owned the local bakery. 

Having learned to play the violin, he was offered a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music but declined as he had no relatives in London and carried on with his schoolwork while helping out on the bread rounds for the family business.  

Mr Oatley served with RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War as a navigator with 627 Mosquito Squadron, a low-level precision dive bombing unit based at Woodhall Spa alongside the famous 617 ‘Dambuster’ Lancaster Squadron. 

He took part in 22 operations including the infamous Dresden raid in February 1945.   

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After the war, he moved to Northampton where the family had bought a restaurant, bakery and cake shops. 

In 1947, he set about converting an unused basement into a themed restaurant based on the interior of the luxury Pan American airliner ‘The Clipper’.  

The restaurant was frequented by stars of stage and screen when they were performing at the nearby theatre.   

In 1952, Mr Oatley moved to Ipswich to manage The Oriental Restaurant.  

He added a bakery in Frobisher Road and six cake shops, which became part of the local bakery group Tooks. 

Ken Oatley will be celebrating his 100th birthday  

Ken Oatley will be celebrating his 100th birthday - Credit: Charlotte Bond

In 1967, he sold the business and became managing director of 35 Fine Fare Restaurants, but after two years he decided he wanted to run his own business and bought a shop in The Walk in Ipswich, converting it into Marshall's restaurant.  

Later, he added the two Wimpy Bars in Ipswich, a hotel in Leicester and The Chocolate Box in The Walk, which his wife Irene ran for five years.   

He qualified for his Private Pilots Licence and in retirement maintained a passion for woodworking, restoring and building classic and replica kit cars.   

Of the secret to a long life, he said: “The key is doing what you want to do, pursuing your passions and enjoying them. I like making things and building things.”   

He has two children, Rodger and Jill, five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.