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Last Days At K C Continental Stores

March 26, 2015
by the gentle author

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

17 Responses leave one →
  1. ROBERT GREEN permalink
    March 26, 2015

    I have walked past this shop so many times and yet I am afraid I must admit I had no idea that it was such an old established business, sadly, high rents and extortionate business rates are usually the two main reasons that signal the death nail for most small independent shops, even the basic cost of running a shop in central London are so prohibitive now that only chain stores and multinationals can afford them, and so signals the end of choice for the consumer, I must say, Mr Giordiani look’s remarkably well for a man of 81 year’s, and I am sure that he must have had a good and happy life running his shop and it is very sad that he now finds himself unable to continue, I do sympathize with his plight, and only hope that the loss of his business dose not have an adverse affect on him, I wish him all the best.

  2. YVR permalink
    March 26, 2015

    I especially like how your pointed out the red letters, on shop sign, match the door!

  3. March 26, 2015

    Sorry to see this lovely shop go, but I wish Leo all the best and a happy retirement. Valerie

  4. sarah swan permalink
    March 26, 2015

    To say he will be missed is putting it mildly. We have been customers since 1999. He and his wife deserve their retirement, but this is the end of an era and the end of wonderful Italian food in Kings Cross. Thank you, Leo.

  5. Naomi permalink
    March 26, 2015

    Oh no. While Leo obviously cannot continue ad infinitum this is such sad news. We will be losing a real local asset and a rare breed of shop. This is the kind of place that people are trying to recreate in the shape of swish delis and other specialist food stores (eg the newish fishmonger and butcher on Fortess Road in Tufnell Park) that despite their focus on the food, seem to me have little personality and more and more to be following some kind of retail formula – as well as charging high prices for the privilege of shopping there. I urge you to go to visit KC Continental Stores before it closes; breathe in the special smell – a mingle of cured meat and cheese; buy plump Italian sausages or crescents of homemade filled pasta; chat with Leo and the clientele who come from all walks of life; and say goodbye to the kind of shop that our children as adults will struggle to find. PS he also sells amazing Easter eggs.

  6. Nat Foreman permalink
    March 26, 2015

    I love this place! the quality of the produce, the expertise and charm of the service … you are in a different world when you are there. too sad and now of course also hungry to think about this wonderful place closing.

  7. March 26, 2015

    My first ever job in the media was as ‘editorial assistant’ on a weekly listings magazine called What’s On In London, working out of a shabby but endearing office in Pentonville Road. For ‘editorial assistant’ read occasional scribe, compiler of seemingly endless listings, bacon sandwich goafer (from the much-missed A1 cafe in King’s Cross Road) and general dogsbody. I already knew Caledonian Road very well (as a youngsters I played for a football team called Caledonian Shields) and still like to walk its length when the fancy takes me. It still has a certain something, despite all the change and gentrification.
    K&C Continental Stores I also knew well, and on occasions would be dispatched by the rest of the editorial team to buy cheeses, meats, bread and olives for sumptuous ‘at desk’ lunches. On some occasions there would even be a bottle of Chianti….although it never went far.
    Sad, then, to hear that an era is coming to an end.
    Best wishes to Leo Giordiani and family. They will be missed.

  8. March 26, 2015

    Touched by this story….. Happy retirement to Leo from the south of France!

  9. Antony Macer permalink
    March 26, 2015

    Maybe Leon and/or his wife will remember the delicatessen shop in Tavistock Place back in the early sixties. As a newcomer to Bloomsbury and with new-found freedom from ‘Mum’s cooking’, the proprietors were hugely influential in my migration from ‘meat and two veg’ cooking to, shall we simply call it, richer fare?! ‘Have you tried this?’ was a frequent question asked of me…
    From the comment about the English being more savvy than the modern Italian customer, it seems the Giordiani have done too good a job!
    My sincere thanks to all of his kind. I hope to visit the shop before it is closed, for no other reason to remind myself by the sights and smells of the goods on offer of how the search started!

  10. Richard permalink
    March 27, 2015

    I used to pass here on the way to a nearby place. A little red white and green on the outside would surely have invited me in. What a shame it’s going. All the very best to Leo and his family.

  11. Andy Parker permalink
    March 27, 2015

    Will be much missed – best stocked deli with reasonable prices to be found in the borough (that big red meat slicer is a ’50s design classic, too). Having grown up around Soho and seen Del Monico’s and the rest eventually go (honourable exceptions being the Lina Stores and Camisa), I can only join in with everybody else’s comments and wish Leo and his wife a happy retirement and to say thank you for all the lovely food…

  12. May 2, 2015

    When we were first married over 25 years ago, this wonderful little shop was on my route home and was a great place to pick up something interesting which also avoided either of us having to cook ! Leo and his customer.s also stimulated an interest in all things Italian, which I can happily say we have indulged in, in our latter years. A lovely memory not to be forgotten.

  13. Justine permalink
    May 4, 2015

    The best baguette, the cutest man, and the most London experience I’ve ever had. I will forever remember this place.

  14. Diana Shelley permalink
    May 7, 2015

    End of an era, indeed. At least the Giordanis will be remembered with a street bearing their name on the King’s Cross Central vast, and generally soulless, development. But I’ll miss Leo and Noreena, the parma and panettone, and their inimitable contribution to community life in south Cally.

  15. jean miche permalink
    May 18, 2015

    I just popped out to stock up on parmesan to find my favourite Kings X shop closed. I’ve been buying from Leo for over a decade, and have been dreading this inevitable day.

    I am beyond sad to see Leo gone, but wish him a good and deserved retirement.

    And I hope that beautiful vintage meat slicer finds a good home. If i’d known he was closing i’d have been tempted to make him an offer.

    Ciao Leo!

  16. Ayo abbas permalink
    May 20, 2015

    So sad to read this I worked just off the Cally Road about 10 years ago and used to stop in on my way home to buy my finer. Amazing deli and service at reasonable prices. Such a shame London is losing these great little independents at such an alarming rate.

  17. Spike Geilinger permalink
    February 27, 2016

    We lived in Keystone Crescent for several years in the 80’s/90’s and were in Leo’s all the time. His shop was a haven for the remains of the community known as ‘little Italy’ that used to stretch down to Clerkenwell. I would often walk in to find a couple of his mates chatting in Italian over a Peroni beer which would be hastily hidden from view as he had an off licence and drinks were not supposed to be consumed on the premises.

    Sad as I am to see him retire I think he deserves a rest!

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