Stars come out to support famous Italian food facing lockdown in London’s Soho | London

For decades, I Camisa deli has been at the heart of society in London’s West End. Opened in 1929 by Italian brothers Ennio and Isidoro Camisa, the Soho institution sells specialty products including imported meats and cheeses, as well as handmade pastas and sauces and hot sandwiches on freshly baked bread.

The food has garnered an array of accolades and praise from critics and cameos in TV shows including The Great British Bake and actor Stanley Tucci’s BBC Travel programme. But now, having experienced the effects of the pandemic, it seems I Camisa is about to close permanently after nearly 100 years of starting trading.

News of the impending closure sent an outpouring of support, with some 4,000 people signing a petition calling for the Labor-run Westminster City Council to engage with Shaftesbury, the real estate investment trust that owns the building, to find a solution. Among those believed to be providing support are broadcaster Stephen Fry, actress Miriam Margolis, food critic Tom Parker Bowles and musician Tim Arnold.

Customers come to I Camisa to chat as much as they do to eat. “People will ask us what’s the difference between a panettone and a pandoro, but they’ll also come over to chat,” says Mattia Perlino, associate director. “It feels like home.”

In its life it passed through the hands of several owners, moved across the road from its original premises, witnessed the rule of five kings and survived a number of slumps.

But in the wake of a decline in trade during the pandemic, business has not picked up. Today, turnout is only 60% of what it was before, according to management. It also closed many of the restaurants that Camisa supplied to it, while energy and production costs soared. The landlord’s decision to bring rent back to pre-pandemic levels – £100,000 a year – has exacerbated the pressures, leaving him unable to continue.

“You could see the numbers coming down and we knew we couldn’t keep up with the costs,” said Christina Onuta, the club’s manager for 23 years. “We are all devastated. People come in here and ask, ‘Why?’ And I say, ‘How much time do you have?’”

The larger rent bill is one factor that contributed to the store’s difficulties. Photo: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

There are about three weeks to find a solution. If no new buyer can be found or no further compromise can be reached this month, the shop will be closed after Christmas. “We really don’t want to close because it’s such a historic place and it’s a shame because it’s such a beautiful place. But lately it’s become such a burden,” said Gianni Sigatta, one of the directors of Alivini, the current owner. “It hurts you to think you have to close it.”

Shaftesbury said: “Alivini and Shaftesbury continue to work together on potential options for I Camisa & Sons’ retail business. While both appreciated the support expressed for the business, Alivini made the initial decision to close his shop due to a combination of factors, including deteriorating turnover and rising costs combined with a return to pre-pandemic price and rent levels. We can confirm that our discussions are ongoing and we continue to listen to the community’s views.”

When she bought panettones and chocolates on Saturday, longtime customer Terry Brescia, a retired curator, said she would be sad to see them go. “We don’t live in Soho—we especially come—and have been coming for about 30 years. It’s the only place we can get this great stuff. It’s authentic, relaxed, friendly, helpful and everything you want. You know? Italian in London.

Stuart George, 48, another regular, has been coming to the Deli for the past 18 years. There are hundreds of shops selling pasta and bolognese sauce between his home in Vauxhall, southwest London, and Soho. But every Saturday around 9:30 a.m. he gets on his bike and hikes the 11 miles or so to I Camisa. “I’ve sometimes wandered into other stores,” he said, “but I don’t think they’re as good as here.” “The food is great, the staff is great. I don’t even have to ask for what I want. They see me lock up my bike, and they say, “There’s Stewart, we’ll go get his sauce.”

Peter Thompson, 80, a retired journalist who has been visiting since 1971, said: “We have many supermarkets but they are not at all the same. Not even Waitrose is as good as this. Without I Camisa, the area would be much poorer. It is part of a trend: Lots of freelancers due to rising rents, council tax, rates and of course the price of running a business which has gone up astronomically.”

Closing I Camisa would make it the latest in a series of casualties from the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis. During a debate in Westminster Hall last week, Labor MP Katherine West said Public Streets had been “brought to their knees”. Companies are begging for more support. We need to act now if we are to secure the future of our small business.

For Sohu, the loss would be “huge,” according to Tim Lord of the Soho Association, who said several other independent businesses have also closed. “There are very few things left now in Soho that are unique to Soho. If we lost those we would have a very depressing high street,” he said. Camisa. There is no clear way to protect them. It is important because it relates to the history of Soho over the decades.”

Film producer Colin Vines, a regular from I Camisa, poetically describes it. “The thing about Soho is you can keep tearing things down, you can keep changing things, but one day you wake up and it’s going to be the big yellow taxi. They built the parking lot,” he said.

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