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Leo Giordani, K C Continental Stores

September 11, 2013
by the gentle author

Leo Giordani wraps up my Parmesan

Leo Giordani is eighty years old and has not had a holiday in twenty-two years, yet he is the picture of vitality and good humour. In his delicatessen in the Caledonian Rd, you discover a constant stream of loyal customers many of whom have been coming for three decades to exchange banter in Italian and cart off delicious salami, ham, sausages, olives, cheese, pasta, bread, wine and oil sold at his exceptionally reasonable prices. Clean shaven in collar and tie, and sporting an immaculately-pressed white coat, Leo stands with his hands clasped like a priest – surveying the passing world with a beatific smile.

While the transformation of Kings Cross and its environs has taken place around him, Leo and his shop have remained unchanged – and all the better for it. His red front door matches his hand-made three-dimensional wooden lettering, spelling out “K C Continental Stores” upon the fascia, which contrasts elegantly with the eau de nil tiles at ground level. Note the charming old glass advertisements for Brooke Bond Tea and PG tips before you step over the sunburst doormat into Leo’s realm.

On the right and left, are glass-fronted cabinets displaying packets of pasta in every variety you could imagine. On the counter, sit freshly-made sausages and ravioli and mozzarella, while the walls behind are lined with shelves crammed with cans and bottles displaying brightly coloured labels in Italian. Straight ahead is a chilled cabinet of cheese while to the left is a chilled cabinet of salamis and suspended above all this are rails hung with a magnificent selection of hams and sausages.

Taking avantage of the wooden chair, strategically placed for weary customers, I settled down to observe the drama as Leo greeted everyone personally and customers grew visibly excited at all the enticing smells and colours of the delicacies on offer – and, in between all this, Leo told me the story of his beautiful shop.

“I opened Kings Cross Continental Stores on 1st October 1964, so I have been here forty-nine years. I came from Italy with my wife Noreena to work as waiters at the Italian Embassy but, after three years, the Ambassador went off to America so we stayed here. We knew about food but it took us a long time to learn how to run the shop and speak the language as well. I’ve always been very respectful with my customers, because you have to be good with them if you want them to come back. In those days, it was different here – better, because there were more shops, two fish shops, three greengrocers and a butcher. We had everything and now there’s nothing.

There were plenty of Italians living here, Keystone Crescent was all Italian then, but the old people died and the young people moved away. My customers used to be more Italian than English, but now I get more English than Italian – yet the English know more about this food than the Italians these days.

I have run this shop myself all these years, though sometimes my wife helped out with serving, cleaning and doing everything else that needs to be done. I get in here at nine each morning and I close at six because I’m not young anymore. For the last ten years, we have lived in Muswell Hill but I stay upstairs above the shop during the week while my wife is back in Muswell Hill picking up our grandchildren from school. Every night, I cook and wash-up for myself, and it’s a bit hard but I can make simple things like spaghetti.

If I retired and watched television, I would not be myself. I don’t like to do nothing – I prefer working. The business has always been good here, but we are working for the Council now – they are my landlords, so I pay rent and Council Tax  to them. We’ve got plenty of customers and we make money but, in recent years, there’s been nothing left after we paid the bills. We took a lot of money at Christmas yet my son, who works for Barclays, did my accounts and he said, ‘You’ve got nothing left.’ I’ll go on for another year and then retire. I really enjoy this job even if it is hard work and I’d feel sorry for my  customers if I retired.”

In spite of Leo’s threats of retirement, I think he will be there for as long as he can, so I encourage you to pop over to K C Continental Stores next time you are passing through. Leo can make you a sandwich of Parma ham or salami in ciabatta and reminisce about old Kings Cross. And I recommend you pick up some delicious fresh Italian sausages, olives and parmesan – as I did – while you are there, too.

Rails hung with a magnificent selection of hams and sausages

Leo’s red front door matches his hand-made lettering, spelling out “K C Continental Stores”

“the English know more about this food than the Italians these days…”

Photographs copyright © Bob Mazzer

Kings Cross Continental Stores, 26 Caledonian Rd, N1 9DU

17 Responses leave one →
  1. September 11, 2013

    Wonderful shop, thank you for telling more people about it.

  2. SBW permalink
    September 11, 2013

    Thank you so much.

  3. Fiona permalink
    September 11, 2013

    I lived in kings cross before its gentrification and Leo’s shop was one of my regular haunts. It was and is a fabulous place to shop and a link to the strong Italian community which existed in the clerkenwell area.

  4. Annie permalink
    September 11, 2013

    Were I not off to spend my day as a primary school teacher in Yorkshire, I would be hotfooting it to Caledonian Stores this lunchtime. Next time I am down, I’ll make a visit.
    Brilliant and cheery entry, GA.

  5. September 11, 2013

    It will be sad if he has to leave his wonderful shop. Valerie

  6. sarah permalink
    September 11, 2013

    We have been customers of Leo’s since 1997. His food is wonderful and he and his wife are lovely.

  7. September 11, 2013

    Aw – this reminds me of the lovely Rocco who used to run Da Rocco on Highbury Park. That shop smelled heavenly from the pasta sauces they used to make. Must make a trip here now that he’s gone.

  8. September 11, 2013

    Italians seem particularly good at running local groceries that become a real Little Italy for fellow -Italians and fellow-Londoners alike. In Lewisham there’s a similar shop we love to visit every time we stay with my son. The smells, the atmosphere and the welcome are second to none

  9. September 12, 2013

    Wonderful shop; I can smell the cheese!

  10. Glenn permalink
    September 12, 2013

    I just bought some ham, mozzarella, biscuits, sausages and pasta for £6.85
    Thanks for letting us know about this gem.

  11. Sambal permalink
    September 12, 2013

    Definitely going to go and buy something nice there – looks wonderful.

  12. Lisa permalink
    September 17, 2013

    really hope he doesn’t retire yet he’s pretty much an institution around here

  13. September 17, 2013

    We’ve been customers since 1993. Delightful shop. Delightful people.

  14. alessia permalink
    September 22, 2013

    This is a traditional italian delicatessen which has been running for 50 years, my grandmother, mother and now I shop here regularly. The food is excellent and all reasonably priced! I would recommend this to anybody; it is a little gem. Leo and Norina are fabulous people and will do anything to help you buy the right ingredients for a fantastic italian meal.

  15. Horace permalink
    September 24, 2013

    Leo’s shop is unique. Even in Italy, such a shop would be a rarity nowadays.
    Things are not what they use to be and I can understand when Leo states that English people know more about Italian food that the younger Italians do! Quality and flavours are less understood. Its true! Very True.
    Leo has the ability to get the most wonderful salami or hams. Christmas would not be Christmas in our house without Leo’s (specially selected ) ham…properly seasoned and dried!
    his Felino salami is second to none…(where does he find them!! I always wonder..).
    I hope that Leo doesn’t retire. Retiring is a concept that doesn’t fit in with him, or me for that matter, that is probably why we are such good friends.
    I can only speak for myself, but I know Leo would agree, that the best way to pass away is doing what you love the most….your work. Leo loves his work, that is why he doesn’t need a holiday and I celebrate this!! Long live the King Of Delicatessen, Long Live Leo!!

  16. Terry taylor permalink
    September 25, 2013

    I have been going to kc.delicatesant of and on since 1997.i live in Liverpool,
    And was told about this store by a friend,I went to see a football match,in London
    I called in,before returning home and got talking to Leo and his son.
    I bought cheese,salami etc.and have been friends ever since.
    So each time I go match in London,I go home with food from Leo.

  17. Justin permalink
    March 20, 2014

    Wonderful, wonderful shop. London will be a poorer place if it were ever to close. “I get in here at nine each morning and I close at six because I’m not young anymore.” says everything. What a lesson to my younger office colleagues who get in at 9.15 and leave at 4.30 …

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