A chip off the old block – 99 years old and still going strong

For many Scots,  a traditional 99 is all about good italian ice cream, served in a cone, with a tasty piece of flaky chocolate and perhaps some raspberry sauce on top. But in the case of Galston’s Principal Café,  99 has a special new meaning as the company notches up a near century of family ownership in 2018.

When Adolfo Lucchesi was born in 1890 in Cardoso, Italy, it’s unlikely he could have predicted that 99 years later his great great grandson would be serving excellent fish and chips and ice cream in the business he founded with his brother Desiderio in 1919.  And today, thanks to  Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS) grant assistance from East Ayrshire Council and Historic Evironment Scotland, the business is operating from pristine, newly restored premises which looks as good as it did way back on opening day.

Adolpho  (known locally as “Big Dave”) originally came to  Darvel in 1904, to join his brother selling ice cream from a hand cart in the streets around the Irvine Valley.  He returned to Italy in 1911 to fight for his country in the Italo-Turkish War, and returned in 1919 complete with a medal for bravery and a new wife, Eufemia, his childhood sweetheart from  nearby Campi.

1919 saw the start of the Lucchesi empire as it is today. Desideiro established The Principal Café at 3 Brewland Street, paying £270 for the buiding. While Adolfo set up a fish and chip shop  at  the already established “Queen Mary  Café” with wife Eufemia.  The couple had a total of five children, of whom Albano was the great grandfather of the family’s latest incumbent, Liam Mair.

Sadly Desiderio passed away in 1925, which is when Adolfo bought the Brewland Street business.  By 1949 Albano had served as a translator for the British Army and had joined his father in the business. Adolfo commissioned the building of an ice cream factoryin Titchfield Street and opened a nearby kiosk, selling ice cream and confectionery  while Albano took over running the fish and chip shop in Brewland Street. He and wife  Marina had four children Ricardo, Iva, Gioia  and Renato.

Iva eventually joined the business, and has run or leased out the Principal Café through a number of incarnations, (and two fires!) and has recently retired, leaving the premises in  the capable hands of  Liam the 5th generation to join the Luccesi businesses.  Liam, a passionate cook, prides himself on producing the best fish and chips possible, paying stringent attention to his ingredients, fat temperatures and freshness.  The Principal Café is also the only outlet outside Irvine with permission to  sell award winning Vanilla Joes Ice cream, produced by his cousin Marco to an old family recipe.

As the business nears its 100th anniversary in 2019, the whole family, their employees and the local community have had a massive boost from the injection of Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme  (CARS) Funding,  administered by East Ayrshire Council’s Regeneration Team and part funded by Historic Enviroment Scotland,  which has enabled massive and sympathetic  renovations to  be carried out on the historic building’s roof, external fabric, stonemasonry and rainwater goods, making it fit for the 21st Century.

Iva can hardly contain her delight at the result: “What can I say, it’s absolutely fantastic. The roof was badly needing done – we could have  barely afforded to do  even the roof and the rest was equally needing attention. Before the work was done it was costing us thousands on repairs, repairs, repairs,  it was a constant drain on the business.

“The grant was 90%. What we paid towards the work might have paid for the roof repair alone, but not to the standard it’s been done to – and we’d still have been left with a huge ongoing issue with the rest of the building. It’s absolutely fantastic that for the cost of the new roof we’ve got the whole shop done. We can ‘t stress enough how grateful we are to the Council because in a shop like ours we’d never have been able to do a job like this without help. We’d never have got the money back. It’s been a huge boost, it looks fantastic, the guys have done a wonderful job. At the moment it’s the best job in the town, and I have to thank Davy Murdoch and Jim Brady and their teams of stonemasons for doing such a fantastic job.

“Some people have questioned the value of  grants for doing up old buildings and I do understand that, but it’s about more than just bricks and mortar. It helps us keep our business healthy, meaning we can provide jobs, take on and train young staff and keep our costs manageable and prices reasonable.  Upstairs we’ve now got good quality rented accommodation providing homes  which might otherwise eventually have become  uninhabitable, so we’re able to provide homes, opportunities and employment. We’ve had to make a significant investment ourselves and a make a commitment to keep the building for 10 years or pay some of the grant back.

Commenting on the recent road closures, necessitated by  the demolition of a dangerous building, Iva said: “The ongoing support we’ve had from the council, has been amazing. The work done to help the traders during the road closures has really brought everyone together, as traders we’re all talking to each other and working together now more than ever before. We’re really looking forward to seeing  what happens in the former Portland Hotel. It’s great to see all the updates online on the the council’s website and know that it’s on schedule. We feel as if we’re being kept very well informed at every stage. Most local people have been good at continuing to support us, we might have temporarily dropped a bit of trade but we’re sure it will be worth it in the end.”

“I know some people are frustrated with the current building works in the town, but I can’t complain about the disruption.  I think  what they’re doing is brilliant. It’s all to the good of the town. If the town is improved, and other proposed developments nearby go ahead, people will come and visit.  If we stop and think about the local tradesmen and young people who’ve gained and stayed in skilled jobs thanks to all the restoration works and the training in traditional skills they’ve undertaken, the regeneration projects are definitely a win win for the whole area. As a family, we were welcomed here almost a hundered years ago, and with the ongoing help  we’ve had from East Ayrshire  since the 1990s we can hope to be thriving here for a long time to come.”

Councillor Jim Roberts, Cabinet Member for Economy and Infrastructure said: “Iva and her family epitomise the hard working and enterprising spirit of many East Ayrshire businesses – thinking beyond their own needs and taking care to employ and encourage new employees and young people. Over the years the family has benefited from help from East Ayrshire Council’s Economic Development Team with recruiting apprentices and a grants for shop front improvement, and now, with this CARS grant, they’ve ensured that the building will be an attractive and useful part of the townscape for many years to come. It’s a great example of how we can work with local businesses, in practical ways, to help them survive, grow and provide opportunities for others while enhancing the local environment for all who live and work here.”

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