Pietro Nardini and his wife Rosa left the town of Barga in northern Italy in 1890 and travelled to Scotland to start a new life. They settled in Paisley and eventually opened a fish and chip shop and ice-cream parlour.
The family business flourished and in 1931 they opened a branch in Largs - the Fry Fare in Nelson Street. The quality of their 6d fish suppers soon had queues forming at the shop every night. Pietro was now being helped by his sons Sandrino, Nardino and Augusto.
In 1934, Auchenean at the corner of Nelson Street and Greenock Road came up for sale. The Nardinis out-bid everyone, including local impresario Harry Kemp, and took possession of the house and grounds. They built the famous café in less than a year and it opened for trade in 1935.
Made of Snowcrete and with clean art deco lines, the building was the most elaborate of its kind in Scotland. The café and sunshine veranda could seat 300 while the restaurant could take 150. Its catering equipment was state-of-the-art and even boasted an electric dishwasher.
The café was extended to from a restaurant in 1950 and opened on Easter Sunday. The first customers, a Largs resident and four visiting friends, were treated to a free lunch. Nardinis started a new business in 1974 when they built an ice-cream plant behind the café. The business was run by Aldo Nardini, son of Nardino, and his cousin Ricki Nardini from their offices and showroom in Irvine Road. The ice-cream business expanded in 1981 when they invested £150,000 in a new factory which could produce 150 gallons of ice-cream per hour.
In 1975, the café was re-designed under the supervision of Aldo Nardini. A new entrance to the café foyer was constructed and the new servery built along the east side of the building. Nardinis also gained a drinks licence and started selling wine with their food for the first time.
In May 1984, the business branched out when they bought the St Helens Hotel next door to the café on Greenock Road.
The café was re-designed again in 1991 when Aldo enlarged the kitchen slightly and completely refurbished it with Italian equipment. The café, toilets and dining room were also renovated at this time.
In 1997, David Hendry became the new chairman of Nardinis, the first time anyone outside the family had been in charge.
Nardinis went into receivership in 2003. The café closed in 2004 and was bought by the Italgelat Consortium who auctioned off the contents. It reopened in 2008 after a £2 million refurbishment and can now seat 220 customers.
Largs Italians and World War II
After the start of the war in 1939, the two main Italian establishments in Largs, Nardinis and The Moorings (owned by the Castelvecchis) provided evening entertainments to bring light to the blackout. Live music at Nardinis and dancing at The Moorings proving very popular with the citizens of Largs.
However, on 10 June 1940, Italy's dictator Mussolini declared war on Britain and France. This had a direct consequence on the Italian colony of Largs. A crowd of 200 people gathered in Largs outside Nardinis and The Moorings that evening demanding that the Union Jacks flying on both premises be taken down. The crowds were mostly curious and a special police force saw that the only damage was a broken window at The Moorings and a cracked one at Nardinis.
The next morning on 11th June, a number of the male adult members of the Italian community were rounded up by the police. Packing only some light luggage they were taken into internment. Two weeks later many of the Italian women had to leave Largs too. This was due to the enforcement of the 1940 Aliens (Protected Areas) Order which meant that some Italians couldn't live within 20 miles of the coast. So now the Italian women of Largs, having had their husbands taken away from them, now had to relocate to Glasgow or Paisley to live with family or friends.
Gradually the women returned on appeal but the men had to wait longer, in some cases years. Carrado Castelvecchi returned in July 1942 to manage The Moorings but it wasn't until September 1943 that Augusto Nardini was able to return from his internment camp in the Isle of Man.
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