Last Days At K C Continental Stores
Yesterday, I heard the sad news that Leo Giordiani is to retire at the end of April, after half a century behind the counter at K C Continental Stores in the Caledonian Rd, so I am publishing my story with photos by Bob Mazzer to encourage readers to take advantage of these last weeks to visit a legend in the small world of Italian delicatessens and send Leo off with a bumper final month.
Leo Giordani wraps up my Parmesan
Leo Giordani is eighty-one years old and has not had a holiday in twenty-three 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 remains 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 more than fifty 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.
I prefer working to watching television and 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.’ So now the time has come to retire. I really enjoy this job even if it is hard work and I know I’ll feel sorry for my customers once I’ve retired.”
I encourage you to pop over to K C Continental Stores before the end of April, so Leo can make you one of his celebrated sandwiches of Parma ham or salami in ciabatta and reminisce about old Kings Cross. And I recommend you take this last chance to stock up some delicious fresh Italian sausages, olives and parmesan – as I did – while you are there, too. And when you settle down to enjoy your sausages, be sure to raise a glass of Chianti in a toast to Leo Giordiani’s triumphant half century behind the counter in the Caledonian Rd.
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 - until the end of April