Nevio Pellicci: 1925 - 2008

 Nevio Pellicci Snr (and Jnr) on the poop deck at the Pellicci cafe Bethnal Green >> A Visual History of Pellicci's

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 Gregory

... 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 ...

This Is London | Mar 2005


No one stands on ceremony at Pellicci's.

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, extra vegetables.

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 I do?"

'Are you 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 pudding gaff").

"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 Gebler Davies



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 knows him.

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 not custard.

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 the counter.

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 houses.'

'Italian 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 beams proudly.
"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 to church.

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 life."

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.

The Frying Game | The Guardian | April 21 2007 | Melissa Viney


 In 2008 Time Out voted Pellicci's home-made chips splashed with vinegar as the top smell in London ... Time Out

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