A piece of Italy took root in the city (Edinburgh, Scotland) and is still growing (Part three of three)
|"Made in Italy" at the Grassmarket, Edinburgh, Scotland
Photographer: Ian Britton
"Come November and December we convert to the ‘Christmas room’ for retail purposes, then in January it’s where we have our sale. So it’s wee but it’s dead handy."
Mr. Contini is nothing if not innovative, perfectly at home with Fringe audiences.
"In 1985 we had a staff of 15. Today we are 70-strong. We have been with the same bank, the Clydesdale, for 67 years, which must tell you something. They’ve been very supportive, through the lean times and when we’ve expanded.
"They are behind us with our major venture next month, the launch of our purpose-built VinCaffe on two floors next to Harvey Nichols in Multrees Walk, to be managed by our daughter Francesca.
"She had chosen pharmacy as a career, reluctant to join her parents at Elm Row, until a year ago the ‘bug’ got the better of her. We won’t be replicating there what we are doing here."
It’s a strength-to-strength scenario and inevitably they are keeping it all in the family. The Continis were not available for comment in Edinburgh today, by the way. They are in London collecting the Scottish Wine Merchant of the Year award, for the fifth time in the last six years.
War an unlikely window of opportunity
There is a story behind the Valvona & Crolla shopfront which, Philip Contini readily agrees, is rather austere considering the reputation this mother of all delis enjoys.
"When Mussolini declared war on Britain in the summer of 1940, Italians living here - and throughout the UK - were interned. There was rioting up and down Leith Walk and all the Italian-owned shops had their windows smashed and looted," he says. "We hardboarded our window and we’ve left the upper reaches boarded. Incredibly it’s the same hardboard today, painted over countless times.
"In fact, the war was good for us. After internment, Uncle Victor soon realised that soldiers were being demobbed from fighting in the Allied invasion of Italy where they’d tasted real Italian food and wine for the first time.
"They looked for something similar when they got back, and couldn’t be fooled any more.
"Also, with holidaying abroad steadily increasing, garbage masquerading as authentic Italian just wasn’t acceptable any more.
"All this has worked to our advantage. Yes, there’s an aura, a certain mystique about this place, we like to think. But fundamentally we are simply a grocer’s shop doing our own thing."
|Originally Published on . ©2004|