Though pizza and pasta may be staple dishes around the UK today, they only became so due to the influence of Italian culture brought over by immigrants seeking to share their culture – and cuisine – with others. Glasgow is home to a significant Italian population, and one shop in particular changed the way Scotland ate.
“There was nothing else Italian around at that time,” Eddie Eusebi, co-owner of Eusebi’s Deli, explains. “The Glasgow people didn’t know what an aubergine was or what to do with it.” He’s talking about the reception his parents received when they opened their first deli in Shettleston in the East End of Glasgow. In the 43 years that have since passed, the deli has become a landmark in not only the city’s culinary scene, but also the history of Italian-Scottish immigrants and their community.
Italian immigrants have been making Scotland their home since the 1890s, as the first major Italian diaspora began. Many fled the poverty and famine in their own country (a result of Italy’s reunification, when lack of land as property became an issue) for perceived better shores. While most emigrated to the Americas, the community became particularly significant in Glasgow following WWI; at the time, it was the third-largest Italian community in Britain. Men who had previously arrived solo and sent money home to Italy encouraged their families to join them as their businesses became more established.
“I think it’s word of mouth,” says Eusebi when asked why Italians chose Glasgow in particular. “Glasgow and Edinburgh have a lot of Italians who came from much the same part of Italy: Campania, Bologna, Naples, Sicily. They had chip shops, then became restaurateurs, then their families went to universities, some qualified as doctors and lawyers; they married into English and Scottish pedigree, and they become more Scottish.”
Eusebi’s own grandparents arrived from Italy (“from very close to a seaside town called Formia”) just after WWI and opened a cafe in Glasgow in 1954. It eventually grew into an ice cream factory, which sent ice cream vans out onto the streets to delight the children of the city; today, diners at Eusebi’s Deli can see the black-and-white family photos of the old Rendez Vous Café ice cream van.
Eusebi’s father met his mother on a family holiday in Italy, and she returned to Glasgow with him at the tender age of 17, where they set up an Italian greengrocers. “My mum had a big influence on the business,” he says. “Being Italian, she knew how to make a meal: making fresh pasta, preserving, doing her own passata and storing it for the winter, curing ham. She brought that knowledge over here, and it turned the greengrocers into a delicatessen.”
The hospitality was also second to none. “The first thing they’d do is hand you an espresso,” says Eusebi. “They’d just say, ‘Here you go, nice to see you’. People would love it; they’d know they would get a cup of coffee and chat to my dad. Everything in the shop was all-Italian.”
Following a career with British Airways, Eddie’s sister Giovanna took over the deli in 1999 when her father’s health was faltering and she was pregnant with her first child. “Givoanna steps in, changes the whole look of the place,” says Eusebi. “She sells Parma ham, mortadella, salamis, cheese, all the olive oils, packet pastas, panettones. Giovanna would sell a thousand panettones a year. She’d bring out meatballs, homemade bread, soups, sauces, lasagne, fish, every single day. And there was a queue out the door. So many people would catch on. Not just in the area, but people would travel.”
One of these travellers was the late journalist and critic A.A. Gill, though Giovanna didn’t immediately realise in 2008 who “Adrian from London” was, as she enthused with him about her fresh delivery of San Marzano tomatoes and cheeses, and served him a sandwich. Gill was researching a piece for The Times on Glasgow’s East End being home to the UK’s lowest life expectancy, and he certainly wasn’t prepared for the healthy Italian beacon amid the gloom. “He was so shocked to see that Giovanna had this [the deli],” says Eusebi. “He just couldn’t believe it. Because he was in the area for two or three days, he eventually declared himself. She knew the name, of course.”
The former deli premises in Shettleston now operates as a commercial bakery for the newest incarnation of Eusebi’s Deli, which opened in West Glasgow in 2015 following eight years of council wrangling – not to mention flooding issues. Eddie’s father passed away in 2005, suffering a massive heart attack on the street where the new deli is located, which is how Eddie came to find the new premises. “Maybe for a few weeks afterwards, I would park my car and walk up and down the street. There was a ‘To Let’ sign here, and I said, ‘I’ve seen a sign for us to move into The West End, Giovanna’.”
The newest deli has every Italian cuisine imaginable, but it specialises in fresh pasta; Eusebi’s chefs are regularly flown to Italy to undertake training in the art form, and a £25,000 investment in an Italian pasta machine ensures authentic results. They’ve also been introducing Glaswegians to Rome’s pinsa: a 72-hour-fermented, lighter alternative to pizza made with four different types of flour (soy bean, wheat, rice and sourdough).
And while Eusebi concedes the Scottish palate can be quite different to Italian tastes, there’s always a queue out the door. “We get a lot of Italian tourists from places like New York, as well as a lot of the Glasgow footballers.” Today, the atmospheric deli is not only a vital part of Glasgow’s culinary heritage but a story of one family that spans countries and generations.
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