They have been an oasis for leg-weary shoppers and a welcome drop-in for tired town centre workers for generations.
Now one of the most popular cafes in Falkirk is celebrating 20 years of serving a refreshing cuppa and friendly welcome to its legion of loyal customers.
Casci’s Cafe in Callendar Riggs has a well-earned reputation for being one of the best tearooms in town.
That in itself is no surprise given owner Chris Casci grew up learning the business working alongside his dad, Henry, and Uncle George in the famous Boulevard in Lower Newmarket Street.
Every weekend and most holidays from school Chris would earn his pocket money by tying on an apron and preparing and serving meals in the Casci lounge bar and restaurant upstairs from the bustling Boulevard itself - hard graft for a teenager given the foot fall the Boulevard attracted morning until night was relentless.
When he left school - and after enjoying a ‘gap’ year which included six months taking jobs “here and there” in the United States - Chris joined the family firm and worked as a barman in Casci’s once again.
In 1986 when his dad and uncle made their decision to bring down the curtain on 80 years in the trade by selling the business and retiring, he took a job at the ICI in Grangemouth.Just eight years later though and “totally fed up” with the daily routine, he took the chance to quit the chemical industry and strike out on his own by buying the premises in Callendar Riggs next to the town’s bus station to relaunch the family tradition.
The business he opened in 1994 traded under the name The New Boulevard, partly in respect to his family who had made the original ‘Nu Boulevard’ such a success but also more importantly to announce Chris Casci was back!
Within five years however Chris felt confident enough to drop the name and build on the customer base he and Gaynor, his wife of 30 years now, had attracted through their own efforts and the cafe was renamed Casci’s.
Two decades later, and despite having to deal with serious competition from the various fast-food franchises which sprang up close by and also one of the most biting recessions in living memory, they are still very much in business and as enthusiastic as ever.
Chris (55), and Gaynor (52), who he effectionately calls “the boss”, feel they have every reason to look forward to the future with confidence.
He said: “At 13 I was in the Boulevard working weekends from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. starting with serving breakfasts and finishing with serving high teas for my pocket money. It was a great experience to be fair, helping my dad in the kitchen at the back of the shop preparing the meals and my uncle out front shouting at me which tables I should be taking them to. I really was taught the business by two of the best. I remember it was hard work and I wasn’t treated any differently because I was family either. If there was a job to be done I’d be told to do it just like any other member of the staff.
“When the family took the decision to sell up I went to the ICI but I hated the job and when the chance to take voluntary redundancy came up in 1994 I grabbed it. Looking back, it was a bit of a gamble, but I was always confident I could make a go of it.
“It’s true the decision to first open as The New Boulevard leaned a bit on the reputation my dad and Uncle George had built at the Nu Boulevard and other cafes they had owned in other parts of the town over the years, but around 15 years ago we took the decision to change the name above our door to Casci’s and build something on the back of the standard of service we were providing.
“We felt that was important and worked hard to have that recognised. All these years later some of the town’s most famous cafes have closed or are under new ownership but we are still here, so I think it’s worked out not too badly. Given all the challenges we have faced, from the growth of the fast food industry to the impact of the downturn in the economy I think it’s quite an achievement.
“It’s been pretty tough for many small businesses around the town for a while and it’s been no different for us running a traditional corner cafe. Through it all though we’ve worked hard to keep the standards high.
“Of course at the end of the day it comes down to one thing, keeping your customer base and that’s something we have managed to do. We’re both proud to be here two decades on, but know who we have to thank for that, our regulars. Over the years Gaynor and I have served an awful lot of nice folk. They always get a ‘hello’ when they come in and a ‘cheerio’ when the leave and usually there’s a bit of banter inbetween.”
While the friendly welcome is no doubt a part of the Casci success story, so too is the traditional cafe menu available to enjoy in this homely establishment with its neatly laid out tables and their traditional waxed floral coverings.
While the “healthy eating” mantra is very much in evidence - hearty salads, homemade soup and baked potatoes are all part of the choices - the iconic chip buttie and roll on sausage as well as the ‘Big Breakfast’ are also all still available. Add the tea or coffee and selection of scones and biscuits freshly made daily on the premises by Gaynor, and you have another reason for Casci’s continuing success.
The couple are delighted to have reached their special business milestone - and invited their loyal customers to celeebrate with them last Friday when Casci’s went back to 1994 and offered breakfasts for 99p - the price they were 20 years ago.