TRIBUTES have been pouring
in from celebrities, shopkeepers and ordinary customers following
the sudden death of one of London's best loved café owners,
Nevio Pellicci - the day after his 83rd birthday.
He was the second generation
to run the East End's famous Pellicci's Café down Bethnal
Green, now a listed building, which has been serving up teas
and meals to generations of Londoners since 1900.
He kept a book of photos and
autographs of some of his famous customers down the years, who
included Guy Ritchie, Henry Cooper and American David Schwimmer
from Friends fame.
Celebs also included East Enders
like Patsy Palmer who first came in as a child, Steven Berkoff,
the Krays who lived round the corner and nowadays artists Gilbert
and George who live just a mile away in Spitalfields.
A Christmas card from Charlie
Kray is part of the family archives.
BBC Radio presenter Eric Hall,
who grew up in the East End, said: "I first came in here
when I was a kid and have great memories of a wonderful 'caff'.
Nevio made a social club here."
Nevio was famed for welcoming
customers as "young lady" or "young gentleman"
irrespective of age-to make them feel good.
Shopkeepers along the Bethnal
Green Road have also been paying their tributes.
Shane Sexton, manager of nearby
Penessi menswear, said: "He will be a loss to Bethnal Green."
Nevio Pellicci was born in
rooms above the café in 1928 and started working there
when he was 14 during the Second World War after leaving school,
the second youngest of seven children.
His family was of Italian origin
from Tuscany. The town of Lucca awarded him a gold medal presented
to 'overseas Italians' for their achievements.
Nevio married Maria in 1965
after they met when she came to work in the café. They
had three children.
Two of them, Anna and Nevio,
both work in the café along with their mum and cousin
Tony who has been there 39 years.
English Heritage awarded Pellicci's
Grade II listing-the first café ever to be listed-for
its Art Deco wooden panelling and logo on the floor which was
commissioned by Nevio's mother Elide.
Adrian Maddox, author of Classic
Cafés, rates Pellicci's as one of his top 10 cafés.
"Nevio built up Pellicci's
over the better part of a century into one of the world's great
cafés," he said.
"His spirit and love of
family lives on in every nook and cranny. Generations to come
will enjoy its ambiance exactly as Nevio would have wished."
Nevio Pellicci's funeral is
at St Peter's Italian Church in Clerkenwell Friday, December
12, at 12.15pm.
East London Advertiser | 4 Dec 2008 | Julia
... Pellicci's in Bethnal Green
is not your average greasy spoon, and that's not only because
it has just been awarded Grade II listing by English heritage
for its Art Deco interior or that it has been owned by the same
Italian family since 1900 ...
The first Nevio Pellicci, left his poor Tuscan village in 1900,
part of the first wave of Italian immigrants, setting up Pellicci's
as an ice-cream parlour, in the same year.
Pellicci's wife, Elide, commissioned Achille Capocci, one of
the East End's many Italian carpenters, to create the award-wining
marquetry, and had him carve her initials into the panelling.
Their son, today's Nevio Pellicci Sr, was born in 1925.
"I was born upstairs," [Nevio] says. "There were
about seven of us back then, brothers and sisters, and we all
lived here very happily in just the two little rooms. Me and
my brothers had a few cafes around the area and we all worked
in them. I finished up with this little one."
Nevio Sr met his wife Maria at the cafe. She was working in the
kitchen, as she still does, and it soon transpired she came from
his village. Nevio Jr and his sister Anna, 25, who also works
in the cafe along with one of their cousins, will take over the
business when their parents retire ...
Is London | Mar 2005
No one stands on ceremony at
Son Nevio junior shouts the orders to his mother, Maria, in the
kitchen, while his father, who was born in the flat upstairs
79 years ago, works the coffee machine. A cousin serves the tables
and his sister makes sandwiches for the steady takeaway trade
- big slices of fluffy white bread slapped around chunks of ham
off the bone.
If you don't fancy that, there are another 35 varieties available,
including liver and onion sandwiches, fried-egg rolls or the
cultural collision that is corned beef on ciabatta.
Its 1.30pm and the tiny place is packed. We're all crammed in
at the 10 or so Formica tables in a fug of bonhomie and espresso
steam. Plates heaped with food stream out of the little hatch
- grilled lamb chops with cabbage, kidneys and chips, home-made
cannelloni with spinach and ricotta, chicken casserole, shepherd's
pie, steak and kidney puddings, roast beef with roast potatoes
and carrots. All priced at £4.40, except the braised steak,
which is 20p more.
Mrs Pellicci makes most of the food herself. Nevio senior once
bought her a Crypto chip-maker to lighten the load, but she didn't
like the way it left bits of skin on the spuds, so reverted to
doing it by hand. Her chips are huge, like potato kindling, and
are served in eye-bogglingly generous measures.
"Try some of mum's veggie pie," Nevio junior encourages
a non-meat-eater, while his cousin raps a teaspoon on a glass
and calls for silence. "Attention, ladies and gentlemen,"
he shouts. "Phillip is leaving the building. A round of
applause, please, because he's been here four hours."
As he exits, his innards swimming in tea, regular customer Phillip
acknowledges his ovation with a regal wave, while over in another
corner, someone who might well be the original Del-Boy snaps
open a briefcase and passes around some spectacles. Then there
is a moment's pause, as everyone in Pellicci's stops to sing
happy birthday to a celebrating party, before resuming the serious
business of lunch again.
"Here, mum gave you a little bit extra,'' says Nevio junior
to S, as he slides over a plate of Maria's lasagne - a tower
of layered pasta, with a summit of white sauce that might possibly
need crampons and a rope to surmount. Piping hot and fresh from
the oven, with the béchamel top bubbling and turning brown
at the edges, it is straightforward and hearty.
I know plenty of restaurants that will sell you a lasagne at
three times the price for a quarter of the size and it won't
be half as good. Mrs Pellicci's steak pie is baked in a suety
crust, with good-quality meat in a thick gravy that Nevio junior
insists you have got to dip your chips in.
Pellicci's is in the news this week because it has just been
awarded Grade II-listed building status by English Heritage,
a remarkable step for a small cafe in the East End of London.
"Is that important?" was Nevio senior's response to
the news, as he darted between tables serving the usual massive
breakfasts one morning last week.
Well, yes. It means that Pellicci's glorious yellow Vitrolite
façade and Art Deco-style marquetry panelled interior
will be preserved, a living testament of an increasingly rare
type of stylish Italian cafe that flourished in Britain during
the inter-war years.
As branded coffee chains such as Starbucks continue to squeeze
independent coffee shops off our streets, it is heartening news,
particularly as even a cup of Pellicci's coffee is liquid history.
One sip of that weak, pale, milky brew and I am transported to
teenage afternoons misspent in the similar types of Italian cafes
that once proliferated in Scotland. And yes, the scalding coffee
still forms a skin between sips, no matter how quickly you try
to drink it.
Yet Pellicci's is much more than a neighbourhood cafe. Opened
in 1900 by the Pelliccis, who hail from Tuscany, it has survived
so long by giving the customers what they want. Nervio senior
said it used to be all bacon sandwiches and cups of tea, but
now customers want cappuccinos and pasta, sometimes even, oh,
In the finest traditions of properly catering for their own community
- and how many restaurants do that today, I wonder? - the emphasis
at Pellicci's seems to be on feeding people as much and as decently
as they can, as cheaply as they can, an arrangement that appears
to suit everyone just fine.
One of their regulars is a taxi-driver called Bob, who comes
in at 6.30am on the dot every Saturday for spaghetti bolognese,
chips and a roll. A photograph of the soap actress Patsy Palmer
adorns the wall - "To my favourite bread pudding gaff"
- while Steven Berkoff, the actress Jessie Wallace, the Gallagher
brothers of Oasis and even Robbie Williams have all been and
signed the autograph book. Not because Pellicci's is a culinary
heritage site, but because here you can eat good, honest fare
in an unpretentious atmosphere in a bygone world where chips
are served with pasta and a potato is not a vegetable, but an
entity all on its own, as in the menu description of roast beef
with potatoes and one veg.
For pudding, we have jam tart with ice cream, syrup sponge with
custard and a helicopter with winch to get us home. While the
building may now be listed, a preservation order should be slapped
on to the Pellicci family, whose old-school expertise and easy
charm could be a masterclass in how to run a successful cafe.
I particularly love Nevio senior, with his neat pencil moustache,
tie fastened to his crisp shirt with a gold clip - very professional
- and his obvious pleasure in his customers and his business
as he surveys his steamy, cosy fiefdom. He will be 80 in November,
but shows no signs of slowing down.
"What would I retire for?" he says. "What would
ready to order?' '| Jan Moir | Telegraph | 11 Mar 2005
You don't know the meaning
of a family business until you've been to Pellicci's in Bethnal
Green Road. Nevio Pellicci (Neville to his loyal East End clientele)
was born upstairs and can trace his family's involvement in this
friendly, bustling cafe back to 1900.
Nevio Pellici's Bethnal Green cafe has been serving for over
100 years. At 70, Nevio might be excused for feeling a little
jaded and looking forward to his retirement, but he is one of
those lucky people who loves his job - and can't come up with
a single answer when he is asked if there is a downside to what
he does for a living.
Nevio even met his wife Maria, who rustles up the home-cooked
pies and pastas in the back kitchen, when she was sent over from
the same Tuscan village from which the Nevios originated, to
help with the business.
"When she saw the handsome Neville she couldn't resist me,"
says Nevio, laughing, while Maria goes quietly scarlet in the
background. "She's the best thing that happened to me,"
he says, by way of mollification.
Nevio and Maria's day starts at five. The baker has already made
his delivery and, since the place is spotless from the night
before, Nevio will get stuck straight in, cutting up the bread
and rolls at the counter after he has turned on the fan, the
boiler and the radio.
"I turn Capital Radio on low for a bit of company,"
he says, "unless I'm feeling like a bit of Sinatra or Tom
Jones, while Maria does what she has to do in the kitchen. She
has to make the bread puddings and lasagne practically every
day because we're so busy. At six o'clock my nephew Tony comes
in and does a couple of loaves. Maria does the potatoes. I got
her a Crypto chipper machine but she won't use it because it
leaves bits behindand so she does it by hand."
Pellicci's opens at 6.30am - sometimes before, but never after
- and there are often customers pressing their noses against
the window. "Bob and Joe, the cab drivers, are often our
first customers," says Nevio, "and Bob comes in at
6.30am every Saturday for spaghetti bolognese, chips and a roll."
There are fewer market traders these days - fewer regular customers
overall, although the business is still thriving - but Pellicci's
has a good selection of signed photos from local celebs such
as Steven Berkoff and Patsy Palmer ("to my favourite bread
"Everything has to be ready by the time we open because
we never know how busy we're going to be," explains Nevio.
"Saturday is busy right through, but it's a nice day because
there are always lots of children and they like to say 'Hello'
to Maria in the kitchen."
Nevio and Maria's children play an important part in the cafe
too. "I couldn't believe my luck when my children said they
wanted to join the business," he says of Anna, 25, and Nevio
junior, 22. Thirty-one-year-old Bruna is sticking to computing.
"It makes a real difference working with your own kids,"
their father enthuses. "People outside the family don't
always treat the customers right because they're just doing it
for the money. I must admit that we do get a bit on top of each
other sometimes, particularly at this time of year, but you can
always go for a quick walk to cool off."
Nevio senior is particularly pleased that Anna and the younger
Nevio have joined the business as they have taken to shooing
him off the premises in the afternoon so that he gets a break
from the constant stream of orders for tea, cappuccino, rolls
and dinners that he fields from behind the counter.
"We get busiest between noon and 2pm and serve our last
customer at five," he explains, "but now they tell
me to go home and freshen up in the afternoon and I pop round
to the pub for a couple of pints at about three-ish. When I get
back the kids have done the tidying and cleaning, its great!
Maria makes us all something to eat and we'll sit down together
in the cafe. We eat the same kind of food we serve, but sometimes
Maria likes to do something a little different, like courgette
flowers or risotto porcini."
Nevio has noticed that his customers have been much more willing
to try something other than bacon sandwiches, chips and tea in
recent years. "Now we serve cappuccinos and lots of pasta,"
he says. "More people want vegetarian food, but we still
sell lots of steak pie."
When the Pelliccis' meal is finished, so is their working day,
and Nevio shuts up shop at around 7pm. It's exhausting work and
so, in August, the Pellicci clan shuts up shop for a month and
heads back to Tuscany and the village from which it hailed nearly
100 years ago.
"We don't like closing," says Nevio, "but it's
the only way to get a proper break - and it's always lovely to
see our customers when we get back." ...
'A Day in
the Life of a Cafe Owner' | Evening Standard | 2001 | Clancy
Pellicci's, a tiny time capsule
of a caff that has stood in the East End of London for 105 years,
has been given listed building status.
'Fuck me, is it that important?' said equally amazed owner Nevio
Pellicci as he raced around the Formica tables serving up gargantuan
breakfasts at 7am, 'Your not having me on are you?'
Pellicciís has been in the same family since it was built
in 1900. Nevio was born above the shop 79 years ago.
And English Heritage is not having him on.
Recommending Grade II listing inspectors lovingly describe it
as having a 'stylish shop front of custard Vitrolite panels,
steel frame and lettering as well as a rich Deco-style marquetry
panelled interior, altogether representing an architecturally
strong and increasingly rare example of the intact and stylish
Italian caf that flourished in London in the inter-war years'.
But they also issued a warning: 'The 50s caf is indeed becoming
increasingly rare and the recent proliferation of new chain coffee
shops is threatening their economic viability.' ...
Pellicci's has its own place in popular culture. It was a meeting
place of the notorious Kray gang who lived just around the corner
in Voss Street.
Nev's son Nevio junior pulls out an autograph book stuffed with
signed pictures of more recent Pellicci worshippers: a sunburst
of soap stars, tabloid faces and Page 3 stunners.
It's also part of the fabric for Iain Sinclair, chronicler of
weird resonances of the East End, who has been a devotee since
the 1960s (see interview in Classic Cafes).
The caff is a focus and social hub of the area. Nevio is small
and immaculately turned out in shirt, tie and zippered pullover
and matinee idol pencil moustache. He knows everyone and everyone
And he thanks a sharp-eyed customer for saving the caf from being
burnt down in 1999: 'It was about 11 o'clock at night and a regular
was driving past in his cab and noticed what he thought were
lights on in the kitchen. He stopped and saw it was a fire and
phoned the Fire Brigade. They were here very fast and managed
to save us.'
One of the many regulars who have been eating here for decades
explains the Pellicci strategy: 'He gets you in with them,' he
says pointing to a row of brilliant coloured sarsaparilla bottles
sitting in the front window, 'you pester your mum and she brings
you in and your hooked.'
Nevio Pellicci says the listing is 'a great honour' but he has
one dispute with the inspectors. The Vitrolite panelling is primrose
But he says the tributes should go to his mother Elide who supervised
the art-deco style marquetry interior created by in 1946 one
of the best local carpenters - Achille Capocci.
'Around here was all carpenters, they all knew each otherís
work, but mum wanted Capocci to do the marquetry as he was the
best - everyone could tell his work.'
And as a tribute to Elide Pellicci, Capocci placed central marquetry
plaque marked 'EP' in a place of honour along the panelling behind
It's the 1946 work that is so significant for English Heritage:
'This work was fitted in the context of the period just after
the war. This was the year of the Britain Can Make It exhibition
at the Victoria and Albert Museum, heralding modern British design,
and a few years later the Festival of Britain brought a style
and design awakening to the Capital. It was also a period of
increased Italian immigration and a great number of new cafes
and espresso bar started to open up - a modern continuation of
a long London tradition that started with 17th century coffee
cafe gets the cream' | The Guardian | 23 February 2005
| by Mark Gould
It's a family affair at Pellicci's,
a classic east London cafe that has been serving the local community
for over a century. Nevio Pellicci is 31 and was raised in the
cafe. His father, Nevio Snr, was born upstairs 81 years ago and
his mother, Maria, 66, has cooked there for the past 45 years.
Sister Anna and cousin Tony complete the family crew.
Tight knit and loyal, the Pelliccis would never dream of working
anywhere else and continuing in the family business was Nevio
Jnr's choice. "I always had it in mind to work in here,"
he says. "When I was 10, I'd help out on a Saturday and
all the old girls would give me a bit of money."
Nevio Jnr's grandparents bought the cafe after arriving from
Italy at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1946 an Italian
craftsman created the distinctive wooden panelled interior, which
is now Grade II listed. At first, the family were concerned the
listing would prevent them from making any changes. However,
the interior has brought even greater trade and recognition.
Fortunately, Nevio Snr was dissuaded from ripping out the panelling
and installing formica when it was all the rage in the 1970s.
"Thank God", says his son.
Some of the cafe's more notorious customers have, literally,
been handcuffed. Pellicci's was once a regular haunt of the Kray
twins, who are remembered as "respectful" by Nevio
Snr. "We haven't got them any more," adds Nevio Jnr.
"But we've got their replacements, people that are doing
similar things. I don't want to know what they're doing. In here
they're nice and that's all that matters to me."
There is rarely any trouble in the cafe, just a steady stream
of customers ranging from loyal locals to new trendies, and,
judging from the framed photographs adorning the walls, the entire
cast of EastEnders. It is part of Nevio Jnr's job to know and
chat to them all. He asks me if I would like to see the autograph
book. So, I settle down with mounds of scrambled egg, beans and
fried mushrooms, and flick through this veritable hall of fame.
Turning the pages I find signed photos of Jarvis Cocker, Henry
Cooper, Steven Berkoff, Sue Pollard, Ralph Fiennes and more.
This gallimaufry of characters reflects the diversity of customers
that now eat at Pellicci's. Some of the "old boys get the
hump" about this, particularly when some young hipster takes
their seat. "But that's not my problem," says Nevio
Jnr. "At the end of the day I've got to treat all my customers
the same. Sure, you get your favourites."
There is no lack of custom, and, judging from the bustle, trade
is very brisk. Nevio Jnr is furiously busy taking orders and
serving - the cafe is about to close but is still packed.
Pellicci's opens Monday to Saturday at 6.15am. Nevio Jnr is up
at 4.30am and in at 5am to slice bread for sandwiches and, sometimes,
to help Maria roast chickens. He shares this gruelling rota with
his father who would like to work every morning but who, at 81,
is forbidden to by his wife.
Maria or "Mama" is the engine room of the whole outfit,
hard at work from the crack of sparrows through to closing time,
cooking for England.
Some things never change. The first customers are always Bob
the cabbie and Bruce the carpenter, and they always sit in the
same seats. Despite rising before dawn, Nevio Jnr exudes energy.
He is constantly chatty and jolly with customers; always busy,
yet ready to pause and catch up with people. "I get to meet
so many different people," he says. "You mingle and
socialise. I love the atmosphere; it's a buzz. Some of my best
mates I've got from this caff, like Scotch Jimmy who's sixty-odd."
He points towards Jimmy who returns a wry smile.
Nevio Jnr sometimes hollers out an order. His language swings
from English to Italian, his voice is loud and has the hoarseness
of the well-worn voice of a market trader. He says he hasn't
stopped chatting since he was a young boy. "My school reports
would say, 'He's a lovely boy, but he don't stop talking.'"
Indomitably sunny, Nevio Jnr is - along with his entire family
- immensely proud of "the shop". Our conversation is
sporadically interrupted while he is questioned about a customer's
order. He remembers exactly what was requested and then proceeds
to tell me exactly what various customers have ordered.
Despite serving delicious but heart-shuddering food every day
in the form of the Great British fry-up, Nevio Jnr remains thin
and clear skinned. I wonder if he eats the food. He loves black
pudding and "Mama makes a lovely bread and butter pudding."
He offers me some but I've just eaten my second lunch in front
of him, for research purposes, and can barely move. Isn't the
traditional egg, bacon, chips and beans something of an insult
to his Italian culinary heritage?
He doesn't think so. Mama cooks both classic English "greasy
spoon" fare and throws in a few Italian favourites such
as spaghetti and lasagne. Her bare strong arms tell me all I
need to know about how many potatoes she has sliced and dishes
she has scrubbed over the past 45 years. She doesn't have a dishwasher.
"We are very old fashioned," she says with a smile.
Nevio Jnr has grown up watching his parents work relentlessly.
"They've had no life. They've never had a break. They've
always worked but I wish they'd enjoy their life a bit more."
When he and his sister inherit the cafe it will open a bit later.
"Eventually, I'd like
While we talk various customers overhear and, unprompted, rise
to tell me just what the cafe means to them. The best tribute
comes from Eric, a regular, who says: "Nev's mum's cooking
is worth a minor stroke." High praise indeed. Eric has been
eating Maria's food since he was a boy and Nevio Snr remembers
Eric's great aunt. A woman nearby hears this and calls out: "It's
the only place you'll get it in." Eric agrees: "It's
like a social club in here. We're all members." Nevio Jnr
"Our family are well known in this area," says Nevio
Jnr. "A lot of people say they don't know what they'd do
without the caff." Maria, it seems, is "Mama"
to them all. "People have got a lot of respect for my mum
and dad," he continues.
Such intimate community life, more typical of a bygone age, thrives
here in defiant contempt of ubiquitous modern coffee shop chains.
Somewhat incongruously, however, Maria is wearing a stained and
faded Starbucks apron. Despite the furious pace at which orders
are delivered to her through the hatch she remains calm, even
managing to accommodate customers who ask for food to be cooked
in a particular way. The kitchen, her domain, is clean and well
organised but unforgivingly lit by harsh fluorescent light. Maria
works flat out for six days, then takes Sunday off when she goes
If Pellicci's walls could talk they might tell of some hair-raising
goings on, and yet the atmosphere is comfortingly homely. Nevio
Jnr asks if I noticed the transvestite who was sitting in the
corner. "She feels safe in here. She says: 'I love coming
in here because I get stared at and have been beaten up on the
streets.' But nothing happens to her when she's in here."
Being part of "the family" comes with its perks. People
look out for one another. It's easy to book restaurants, Nevio
Jnr says, and customers give him tickets to shows. In this fraternity,
Pellicci's is the password.
The sign on the cafe door has been turned around to closed. Nevio
Snr pops back in, looking dapper and ready for the pub. As with
his son, he has been working since 5am. "I love doing it,"
says Nevio Snr. "If I don't do this I've got nothing else,
you understand?" But, he admits, "it's been a hard
Cups clank and the till rings. Nevio Jnr is busy sweeping the
floor, his daily chore. It's 13 hours since he began his day
- but, as I leave, he is still chatting merrily.
Game | The Guardian | April 21 2007 | Melissa Viney