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The JP Man of Torquay

"It's worth standing in the rain or snow for the potatoes"


The JP Man of Torquay

We caught up with the JP Man (who is actually a lady, but that doesn’t stop the regulars shouting “POTATO MAN” across Sainsbury’s on a weekly basis). We wanted to find out a little bit more about the magic behind the midnight potatoes that are held dear every weekend in Torquay.


When did you start as the JP Man and how did you decide to sell potatoes?

I took over from the last Jacket Potato Man in April 2011. Some 7 years earlier I had approached him asking him to come to me first when it was time to move on from selling potatoes.


The JP Man of Torquay

My boat business wasn’t doing well and I saw that the old JP Man was doing a roaring trade down at the harbour; that’s what attracted me to the potatoes. I’d been in the catering business for 5 years in the ‘70s so I knew I could handle it. 7 years on from the original conversation, it was quite a surprise when the JP Man rang to say he was ready to sell… but a good one!


What had you been doing before you took over from the last JP Man?

Well I’ve had quite a full life. I ran a restaurant from 1976-1981, took A Levels when I turned 50, retrained as a skipper at 53… I’m also a qualified secretary and I can do a mean haircut! So I suppose I was up to quite a lot before I became the JP Man. I’m really happy selling potatoes.


How much of a challenge was it to get started as the JP Man?

It was no problem at all; I just picked up where the last JP Man left off. They gave me all of their supplies so I could carry on in the same vein. I made a couple of changes which I think were improvements, like adding homemade garlic butter and chilli to the potato toppings menu.


What lessons did you learn from your first year trading?

I’d been pretty unsure about working through the night (we are licenced to trade between 8pm and 4am any day of the week… it gets chilly in the winter!). Inevitably we would be serving people fresh out of the clubs so I was a bit nervous that we’d have a lot of drunks to deal with. But it turned out that bar workers, door staff and the police all clock off late too so we’ve rarely had any trouble in the queue and I’ve learned not to worry about working nights!


Which of your potato dishes are the biggest sellers?

The homemade garlic spread is always very popular, along with the homemade chilli and cheese jackets. But the biggest seller would have to be the cheese, ham and beans-topped potatoes. Saying that though, the later it gets in the night, the more ‘Full Monty’ jackets we sell. That’s a hefty dish; garlic spread, cheese, ham, beans and coleslaw on a big old potato. A local butcher supplies us with gammon and smoked ham (we like our potatoes to be Torquay through and through).


Where exactly do you trade?

We do our potatoes next to the railings by the harbour in Torquay. It’s a great place to work; it looks a bit like the French Riviera. We’re near the taxi rank so people pop out of the taxi queue and run over to us for a potato all the time.


Are you still enjoying the job?

Yes! I can’t complain; I work every Friday and Saturday night and it keeps me young! It’s better than doing something boring like watching TV and it’s certainly a very colourful job. We see lots of stag and hen dos, crazy outfits and wild dancing in the middle of the square. There’s never really a dull moment, as you can imagine!


The JP Man of Torquay

What do you do with your free time?

I’m only the JP Man on Friday and Saturday nights so I get to spend the rest of the week with my family, going horse riding, gardening and taking my dog for walks in the local wood and moors.


We’ve seen an 1800-strong appreciation society set up online by your customers; they obviously love you! Why do you think that is?

Well it was there when we took over (the JP Man was established 36 years ago) but it does seem to be getting bigger… The regulars are very loyal! They’re our main source of custom, though we get a slight boost in the summer with a little more trade before midnight. We love all of our customers but it’s always nice when you hear the local ones telling you things like, “My mum met my dad in this queue”.


How has your NCASS membership helped you?

I’ve received a lot of support from NCASS. I’ve phoned up a few times and the staff have always been really helpful and personable too. We were thinking of getting a proper van to trade from so I passed the idea by Alan in the office, who gave me the right advice for our business. The NCASS diary is also invaluable, it’s worth everything to me.


Would you recommend us to other traders?

Definitely, we have done many times! If we have a problem, we call NCASS. They’re always helpful and it’s well worth the annual fee.


Good answer! What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out in the catering business?

Don’t let people feel like they’re being ripped off. We give massive portions which is why our customers are so happy to pay for our potatoes. And… Join NCASS! They’ve been extremely helpful; I’ve never had to turn to anyone else for help.




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Thanks for chatting to us JP Man, we’ll be down for the Full Monty just as soon as we can.


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