Remembering Falkirk’s Italian connection

Casci's Nu Boulevard Cafe was ever a favourite meeting place.
Casci's Nu Boulevard Cafe was ever a favourite meeting place.

It’s quite a few years since I last wrote about the Italian families, and especially the cafes, that played such an important part in the life of our community in past decades.

It is a subject that comes up all the time whenever I blether to folk who remember the 50s and 60s and who ,like me, think we are the poorer without them. The empty York Café in the High Street, a long-time favourite stop for a cone or a chip tea, stands as a sad reminder of what we have lost.

Many of the families 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, Melaragni, 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 Moscardini brothers, Primo at the counter and Joe cooking the famous fish suppers in that fabulous café in Manor Street with its individual stylish booths? Younger 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 Wee Peter’s.

Then there was the Broadway at the east end of the High Street presided over by Mando and Landa Notarangelo. Many a time my pals and I popped into 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 also remember Mr Melaragni from the Kit Kat Café in Camelon who was not exactly slim, puffing and peddling his tricycle with a big square freezer on the front.

Yet another, unrelated, Notarangelo family owned the Manor Café which has been through quite a few changes of name and style and was rebuilt a few years ago as an Italian restaurant called Amodo Mio.

The Serafini family who made the York Café such a popular spot 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 by the Casci brothers, was a successful attempt to move up from humble café to fancy restaurant but still serving terrific ice cream. It was a popular spot for the ‘‘smart set’’ to treat their latest flames to dinner!

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 in Camelon as he made the pies squeal while stabbing them to death, ‘‘battered’’ the fish and had the sausages jump all over the counter.

Today all of these famous Italian families are true ‘‘bairns’’ of Falkirk but for most of them the café days are long gone.

Thankfully the Casci family is still in the business in the Callendar Riggs and we have some fine restaurants offering a true taste of Italy. But it’s not quite the same as in those happy days of yore!