THE OWNER of a Leamington institution has decided to call time on a career spanning more than three decades.
Chris Donnachie will bid a final farewell to Rio’s next weekend as he retires after 32 years at the helm of the Bedford Street nightclub.
Despite starting out as a policeman, the father-of-two made the switch to the pub industry plying his trade in London at a number of watering holes including the Blind Beggar pub, which was made famous by east end gangsters, the Kray twins.
But after relocating to Leamington with a girlfriend in the early 1980s, Chris got his hands on the keys to Rio’s in 1984 but is now passing them on to new owners.
The first club owner to bring CCTV cameras into the town, he has also been an integral part of the town’s nightlife scene and introduced the Pub Watch scheme.
And while he admits it hasn’t always been an easy job, he has had a lot of fun over the years.
“I’ve stayed in the industry because I love it. I’ve always stood front of house and seen all manner of things as a result but it has meant people have known where to come if there were any problems.
“I remember one time a guy was refusing to pay the entry fee and I told him he had to. A few minutes later he returned with a caricature of five music legends and said he’d give me that instead of paying and I agreed! It still sits in my office now!”
Chris said the key to the club’s success has been staying consistent despite the changing face of the town.
“Back in the day, people would have their set routes, everyone knew everyone and nothing was taken for granted.
“Unfortunately youngsters nowadays have a lot less respect. 99 per cent are fine but it’s the one per cent that makes the job more of a challenge.
“People might say negative things about us but we are what we are and we don’t make any apologies for that. Clubbers know what to expect.
“I think the fact the club hasn’t changed hands every few years has also helped maintain that consistency.”
So what now of Rio’s future?
Chris is set to hand over to Steve Smith, who currently runs Smack.
“I don’t think my wife believes I’m going to go through with it,” he laughs. “But I will. I’ve got a few health issues and it’s the right time not only for me but for us.”
He and his wife Deana are hoping to take their first holiday abroad in six years and Chris is also looking forward to going out himself on weekends.
“It’s been an incredible ride and I’m grateful to everyone for their help – taxi drivers, the police, the Street Pastors – but most importantly, the customers.
“They have been what has kept the club going all this time and thanks to them, I now have memories that will last a lifetime!”
Rio’s will be open for the final time under Chris’ ownership on November 14.