A piece of Italy took root in the city (Edinburgh, Scotland) and is still growing (Part two of three)
|"Made in Italy" at the Grassmarket, Edinburgh, Scotland
Photographer: Ian Britton
"If you find all this a wee bit confusing, I’m not surprised. Believe it or not, every Crolla in the phone book here is related. And at this point it can hardly be enlightening to drag into the story my dad Carlo Contini, another recruit to V&C.
"From 1950, he specialised in bottling our own wine. It arrived by sea direct from Italy, to be transported up here in barrels.
"It was good quality but cheap - our own bottling making it so - as Edinburgh’s student fraternity soon discovered. You’d see them leave the shop with a gallon flagon of Chianti in each hand, at nine shilling and sixpence a flagon. Don’t laugh. We were selling Riesling in 1952, bottled here, and students rolling up to a party with a few flagons was a common sight all over town in those days. Truly, they’d never had it so good.
"I’d joined the company at 17 and Mary came in when we married 25 years ago. Generally, times have been good, the shop has thrived, but it hasn’t all been sunshine.
"In 1995, when this part of Leith Walk was re-landscaped, we had 18 months of near disastrous trading. Our customers found it awkward getting here, parking was chaotic and they stopped coming. But in time they all came back.
"And in the early 70s we had the emergence of the supermarkets, Tesco for example, where the policy was to pile it high and sell it cheap. We’d done that for 20 years but we couldn’t compete with the big boys at that stage.
"It was all so dodgy. We thought about closing our doors and we were obliged to drastically change our policy. Fortunately we had our own producers in Italy, too small to attract the supermarkets but ideal for our revised concept.
"We moved relatively upmarket with our produce and significantly improved our wine list, telling customers that they wouldn’t find goods of our quality in supermarkets and accordingly it would cost them a bit more.
"Gradually they took to the concept and today it’s the rest’s-history-we’ve-never-looked-back scenario. As we run up to the milestone anniversary, we can claim that business in the last 20 years has grown five-fold and our floor space has trebled to 2000sq ft."
You can hardly talk food Italian-style without talking bread and that’s evident the further you come into the shop off the street.
"Such was the demand, so prolific the variety, that we have our own bakery. We bake some 60 different breads virtually round the corner in Brunswick Street Lane. The smell of freshly baked bread, as you’d imagine, gets the taste buds going. Most people find that irresistible."
There’s some of the showman about Mr Contini, something of the theatre that he gleefully gets out of his system for three weeks every year during the Fringe.
To be continued ...
|Originally Published on ©2004|