FEATURES » Clerkenwell Italian Delis - Gazzano's
Clerkenwell Italian Delis - Gazzano's
Gazzano’s Italian delicatessen
Gazzano’s Italian delicatessen is one of the finest and oldest in London. It has a long family tradition starting from the beginning of the 1900’s. Moreover one of their ancestors, just by chance, avoided being sent to Australia on the Arandora Star.
We met Giuseppe Gazzano, owner and manager of the delicatessen, in his family’s shop on Farrington Road.
As you get into the shop you can definitely tell that Christmas is not so far. A big pile of Panettoni and Pandori is shown on the wall, followed by many varieties of pasta and biscuits. Giuseppe Gazzano and two shop assistants are working on the other side of the counter. A display of cheese and salami separates me from them.
He invited me into the back of the shop to have a chat in a quieter environment. I’m ready to listen to the compelling history of his family.
“My great grandparents from my mother’s side came over in the early 900’s from Minori, a town on the Amalfi coast in the south of Italy. They found a site for the shop, bought the land and built the shop. It was very successful from the beginning. There were many Italians coming over at that time. You could even have four of them on the same street. Everybody complemented each other. There was no competition and every one could earn a living in a friendly atmosphere of mutual help.
“In 1937 my grandfather came over from Imperia (Liguria) selling ‘Carli’ olive oil. He came to the shop to sell the oil, met my grandmother and they got on very well, but then the war broke out and my grandfather was sent back to Italy.
“My grandfather then got sent away again and he ended up in line to be sent to Canada on the Arandora Star. While he was waiting in line there was a gentleman in the line to go to Australia who had been separated from his son. His son was, in fact, in line for the Andora Star going to Canada, so the gentleman asked to swap the tickets. This swap saved my grandfather’s life because as everybody knows the Arandora Star sank on the way to Canada. My grandfather came back after the war and married my grandmother and took over the business.
“The family name of the shop was Mariani, then in the mid 50’s it changed to Gazzano and Son.
“Since the beginning our products haven’t changed that much but packages have changed. For example pasta, tomato and rice were coming loose and I remember my dad telling me stories of when they were wrapping sausages in paper. Only in the last 10 years have real quality items come over. Italian food has now blown out of the water. Competition has forced better quality and more variety. There are less delicatessens then before because the new generation doesn’t want to take over their parent’s business anymore.
“Some of my costumers are retired Italians who used to live in this area. They don’t have money, so I have to keep the prices low. Some of them have lost their partner so life is harder for them. In any case the costumers are a genuine mix, also because there are many foreigners in this area.
“Let’s say that during the week they are predominantly English and in the weekend Italian. Most of them are second, third or fourth generation Italian.”
Giuseppe is 4th generation but he can speak Italian. “My mum is English so I wasn’t taught Italian when I was a child because my father didn’t want to exclude her from our conversations.
“In 1990 my grandfather became very ill so I told my sister, ‘Don’t you think it is time to start having conversations with him in Italian before something terrible happens?’ So, we took lessons. We also had both Italian partners at that time and we were going to Italy for the Summer.
“When I was young I didn’t want to do my father’s job. I tried to do everything else apart from taking my father’s business. I tried TV work, theatre work, financial adviser and estate agent. Then I decided to travel for one year and my father lent me the money. Maybe he knew that to give it back, I would have to work for him.
“When my father died last year I took over his business, and because he did so well it was easy. It was a winning formula so I didn’t have to change much. If it’s not broken don’t fix it.
“I didn’t grow up in Little Italy. My father’s generation moved into the suburbs of London to have a nice family home.” I asked Giuseppe Gazzano if he knew of any other Italian families in London who owned restaurants through many generations. He spoke of growing up with Antony Brown. The Brown family still owns Pasta Brown on Bedford Street. “Antony is a close friend of mine, we were raised together, our fathers and our mothers were friends…”. But this is another story….
And now on to a recent addition - Backhill