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So Long, Leo Giordani

November 11, 2020
by the gentle author

I am sorry to report the death of Leo Giordani, formerly of the celebrated K C Continental Stores, aged eighty-seven

Leo Giordani wraps up my Parmesan

When I met him, Leo Giordani was eighty years old and had not had a holiday in twenty-two years, yet he was the picture of vitality and good humour. In his delicatessen in the Caledonian Rd, I discovered a constant stream of loyal customers many of whom had 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 stood with his hands clasped like a priest – surveying the passing world with a beatific smile.

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

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

Taking advantage 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. 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.”

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

20 Responses leave one →
  1. Leanne Teves permalink
    November 11, 2020

    Oh no, too bad. How I would have loved to stop by. He seems like a charmer. So much loss in 2020. May he rest in peace.

  2. allan Jenkins permalink
    November 11, 2020

    such a gentleman, there was almost always an older customer sitting on a chair passing the slow time of day with him, occasionally his wife in the back. rest his soul

  3. November 11, 2020

    What a lovely gentleman.

  4. Naomi permalink
    November 11, 2020

    That is sad to hear. I was a regular when I worked on Pentonville Road. I loved watching him create my generous sandwiches deliberately and with great reverence. He was Always happy to chat a generously let me take photos on one occasion. Watching him use the vintage slicing machine was a particularly favourite part of the ritual for me! When he closed, it was really upsetting as you knew the whole ‘package’ was unique and could never be reproduced – a piece of social history – but good grief he deserved a bit of rest. I’m glad he had a chunk of time for himself and his family.

  5. November 11, 2020

    Addio, Sig. Leo Giordani — R.I.P.

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  6. Michael M Guida permalink
    November 11, 2020

    Thanks for letting us know about Leo. I used to go to his shop at lunchtime when I worked in King’s Cross 15 years ago. Leo would make a fantastic sandwich with ham and mozzarella and tomato in beautiful soft bread. Thank you Leo.

  7. November 11, 2020

    Condolences to the Giordani family and thank for this wonderful piece.
    I work at Phaidon Press and our former Kings Cross was just up the road. I used to despair at colleagues who’d get the same sandwich every day from Pret when this treasure of a delicatessen was so nearby. Leo was wonderful, and I always like the way he wouldn’t rush serving one customer just because others were waiting. I can only assume he charged wholesale prices because whatever you got, it was always so cheap. Sigh
    thanks again

  8. November 11, 2020

    What a beautiful shop ran by a wonderful man. I’m so sorry.

  9. Stuart Scott permalink
    November 11, 2020

    Such a courteous and engaging person! I started buying his parmesan and salami bargains in the seventies and we shared many enthusiasms about mushroom hunting. So many joyful conversations to be remembered.

  10. Chris Tuft permalink
    November 11, 2020

    Leo, What a Gentleman.
    Used to use the shop when I worked at Rough Trade Wholesale, just around the corner.
    Always very useful for a sandwich after a ‘lunch’ at the Malt & Hops over the road.
    RIP

  11. Sarah Swan permalink
    November 11, 2020

    So Long, Leo. We both remember you and Mrs Leo, as we called her, every time we pass your former shop. We even have a framed picture of the shop. We still miss you both and our chats and delicious food. I hope you had a chance to put your feet up and have a bit of retirement.

  12. Anthony Hickman permalink
    November 11, 2020

    Rip, a lovely man and a beautiful store ..you had to be patient though. Joan and myself often stopped off on the way home to Hackney in fact we first found it when doing The Designer Sale in Balfe Street just opposite. His produce and service were second to none ..here in France he would be an Artisan.

  13. John Ashwell permalink
    November 11, 2020

    So you opened the store a matter of days before I was born – and I never knew that! Thank you for your many years, decades indeed, of serving the local community. Both your smile and your wonderful produce have been sorely missed here on the Cally. Rest well.

  14. Lizebeth permalink
    November 11, 2020

    Oh that is indeed a shame. He must have been a fascinating man. What concerns me is: what will become of his shop? Too many of the old and/or independent shops are disappearing — even more of them, thanks to Covid. Our lives will soon be dominated by malls and Amazon. Who wants that? I do not regard this as progress.

  15. November 11, 2020

    Sad end of an era. My sincere condolences to his family.

  16. Sarah Rickwood permalink
    November 11, 2020

    His shop was truly a treasure- a quietly resistant survivor of a gentler age, a point of stillness as the world roared on by. RIP.

  17. Paul Convery permalink
    November 11, 2020

    I’m so sorry to hear of Leo’s passing. He was a lovely man and a wonderful shop. It seemed a timeless place and I could never conceive the idea that it wouldn’t be there for ever. In the early 80s I used to shop at Camisa in Soho then friends told me not to go so far! Kings Cross was a little edgy and Leo’s shop was a quiet haven, rich with aromas and colours of Italy. Lovely foodstuffs all served with character and care.

  18. Emma permalink
    November 11, 2020

    End of an era. I loved his store for groceries but also for how it looked, like the Beano Cafe and Keystone Crescent. Old Kings Cross.

  19. Daniel permalink
    November 14, 2020

    I always wondered what this shop was when I walked past. I think it closed before I moved to the area, and, while they kept the signage for a period, all trace has now sadly gone. Thank you for preserving the story – and condolences to the family.

  20. oliver george permalink
    November 16, 2020

    I used to go to his shop 40yrs ago, when I lived around Kings Cross. Although I could hardly afford it I’d stock up on weekly supply of the best “extras”. I will remember his service with his wife busy nearby.
    I walked to the shop a couple of years ago hoping it was still in business and was most dismayed, but not surprised, to find it closed and looking a bit derelict. This just confirmed all ideas about how Kings Cross as a community has disappeared.

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