FOR a taste of the Big Apple, right here in Exeter, you need head no further than Starz Bar and Restaurant.
The authentic independent American-style eatery was the brain-wave of Emma and Colin Fry and their innovative idea was way ahead of its time.
These days Exeter is spoilt with the wide range of different food styles and tastes available in its many restaurants and cafes. But 10 years ago it was a completely different story.
The couple were big fans of the TGI Fridays concept but had to travel to Bristol for the nearest restaurant.
"Every time we went we kept saying we wished someone in Exeter would open a similar American-style restaurant," said Emma.
"But at that time no one did. So we thought why don't we do it. And we did."
They set about looking for an establishment to set up the new restaurant bar business, and as soon as they walked into the former Fizgig and Firkin, under the Iron Bridge in Lower North Street, they were hooked.
Colin said he could instantly imagine the chatter of customers enjoying themselves, the music, ambience, and the tinkling of glasses. They fell in love with the location and set about developing it into a unique dining experience.
And it was no easy task. At the time the couple had two young children aged seven and eight years, Emma still had a full-time job working in HR for John Lewis, while Colin gave up his to concentrate on the new venture.
And as if that wasn't enough to contend with the couple also appeared on the popular Channel 4 reality TV show Wife Swap.
They agreed to separate for 10 days and swap partners and lifestyles with a jobless couple. Emma, was sent to Rochdale in Lancashire to move in with foul-mouthed Mark Bardsley and look after his eight unruly children.
Meanwhile, Colin was given the equally demanding task of living with Mark's wife Lizzie.
The filming ended five days early after Lizzie was overcome with jealously at the thought of Emma staying in her home.
"It was a great experience and we really enjoyed doing the show," said Emma. "But combining that with looking after the children and opening the new business was tough.
"I still had a full-time job, was travelling for the show and working in the bar in the evenings. It was one of the hardest times of my life.
"But it was worth it because I am really proud of what we have achieved with Starz."
The couple received national publicity at the time of Wife Swap as Lizzie and her family were catapulted into the spotlight as viewers learned the jobless couple's benefits income of £37,500 was £10,000 more than that of the hard-working Exeter pair.
And on screen the two couples did not seem to get on. So did they ever keep in touch?
"Yes we do," said Emma with a smile. "Lizzie got quite a hard time from the press. She is now living in Wales with her family and we are in contact on Facebook. One of her sons came to see us not long ago, which was a nice surprise. The show was 10 years ago so that is another anniversary to celebrate. We are still glad that we had the experience and the reaction we got was positive."
The couple were also able to use the good publicity they got from the show to promote Starz – which helped launch the business.
"We appreciated that. It gave us a good start and we have worked hard to keep Starz at the top," Emma added. "To still be going and doing so well after 10 years is a great achievement and we are both really proud to have reached this milestone."
The business serves fun food like steaks, fajitas, burgers and ribs. While the bar creates award-winning cocktails. There is also an extensive American wine list.
To celebrate their 10th year of successful trading the couple are rolling prices back to 2003 for the 10 most popular dishes on their food menu from Sunday through to Thursday during September.
Colin, who has had a career ranging from engineering to nightclub management, said: "We want to give back something to the community which has given so much to us over the last 10 years. In these tough economic times, we want everyone to have a chance to enjoy the Starz experience."
The couple say they have really enjoyed running the business over the past decade but it has not always been easy.
The opening of the Princesshay shopping centre was an initial worry, but the quality of customer service and the feel-good factor at Starz managed to overcome all competition.
And the launch of many other American-style restaurants in the city, while initially seeming a problem, has only served to boost trade. "People know what they are getting with Starz," says general manager Christo Archer, "and that is the same consistent high level of service, the same massive portions and the same great party atmosphere."
In addition to the retro prices, Starz is re-launching its lounge bar. Exeter's longest-running cocktail bar, which opened in 2005, has seen many changes, but this will be its biggest yet. With a new and exciting team of bartenders it will be changing its focus from being a cocktail bar to an American bar, with all the glamour that entails.
"We're taking it back to the basics," explains Colin. "People want somewhere to party that reminds them of the time when they were young and carefree, and that is the experience we want to promote.
"With a refreshed design, and a fun, party atmosphere, the lounge bar will be transformed into a classic American experience – think Cheers meets Moe's Tavern, by way of Cocktails & Dreams."
Having seen many restaurants and bars come and go in Exeter in the last 10 years, the couple are rightly proud to be celebrating their first decade. And they are hoping to continue well past the next.
One thing is for sure. With stable management at the helm, along with a great team of chefs in the kitchen, Starz will continue to shine.
Starz, 18 Lower North Street, Exeter EX4 3ET. Telephone: 01392 256625. Website: www.starzuk.com.