In these austere days we are used to seeing big ‘For Sale’ signs on half the shops in the town and after a while you stop noticing them.
What a shock then to discover last week that the good old York Café had closed its doors. This Falkirk institution, a long time favourite stop for a cone or a chip tea, was a reminder of the glory days when the Italian community served the bairns of Falkirk from cafes all over the district.
Many came from Italy in the late 19th century to escape poverty and found a ready welcome as purveyors of ice cream and fish and chips to the hungry workers of towns like Falkirk.
Tuscany, and the Barga region in particular, was the point of origin of many who brought with them all the cheery optimism of their native land. Moscardini, Notarangelo, Serafini, Janetta, Meleragni, Lemetti and Casci to name a few gave the best part of a century to the trade and are as much a part of our history as Aitken’s Brewery or Barr’s lemonade works.
Who could forget the two Moscardini brothers, Primo on the counter and Joe cooking the famous fish suppers in that fabulous café in Manor Street with its individual stylish booths. Brother Peter had his own place, the West End Café which was more of a coffee, cake and ice cream parlour. An unforgettable Sunday treat was a ‘slider’ from Peter’s.
Then there was the Broadway at the east end of the High Street presided over by Mando and Landa Notarangelo. The family also owned the Manor Café which has been through quite a few changes of name and style and was rebuilt earlier this year.
Many a time my pals and I popped in to the Broadway for a pie supper after a pint or five, before heading for a couple of turns on the waltzer at the fairground in Bell’s Meadow. Magic! Big Adam Notarangelo used to drive the ice cream van and I remember Mr Melaragni from the Kit Kat Café in Camelon (at least I think it was him) who was not exactly slim, puffing and peddling his tricycle with the big square freezer on the front.
The Serafini family who made the York Café such a popular spot with locals and visitors also owned the Ideal Café in Melville Street and another favourite was Janetta’s in the Cow Wynd.
In Newmarket Street, the Nu-Boulevard owned and managed by the Casci brothers was an attempt to move up from a humble café to a fancy restaurant. Their ice cream was terrific but odd little things stick in the memory like the way they sliced their square sausage horizontally so that it was as thin as bacon!
But these cafes were more than eating houses.
They were places of entertainment and ten minutes in the queue at the Broadway on a Saturday night taught you all you needed to know about social life in Falkirk.
Today people would pay good money to hear the non-stop patter of Joe Lemetti (senior) as he made the pies squeal while stabbing them to death, ‘battered’ the fish and had the sausages jump all over the counter.
Thankfully Lemettis are
still active in Camelon and,
of course, the Casci family is once again active in the town centre.
Today all of these famous Italian families are true ‘bairns’ of Falkirk and for most of them the café days are long gone.
More’s the pity, for with their departure our community lost something that can never be replaced.
Whatever happened to the famous blue cast iron gate which once stood outside Grahamston Foundry?
The gate was beautifully repaired and restored in 2002 by Carron Phoenix and now stands outside the entrance to their works on the banks of the Carron. It was built in 1886 for an International Exhibition in Edinburgh and at 20 tonnes was said to be the biggest of its kind in the world. Well worth a visit.