Celebrating its 55th birthday this month, London's Spaghetti House has come a long way since the first Goodge Street site was opened. Managing director Luigi Lavarini, the second generation to run the family business, tells James Stagg how it has kept its classic identity while keeping up with food fashion.
Caterer How did Spaghetti House begin?
Luigi Lavarini My father, Simone Lavarini, and Lorenzo Fraquelli were part-owners of an Italian restaurant in Jermyn Street. From there they opened a café selling food and confectionery in Golders Green called the Bamboo Bar. That was in 1953. They then found a site in Goodge Street, where the first Spaghetti House opened in September 1955.
Caterer What was the reaction to Italian food in 1955?
LL People liked the Italian personality. The fun-loving cheekiness, can-do attitude and joie de vivre was embraced by a country full of post-war optimism. Young people latched on to it very quickly and in particular were impressed by the cappuccinos and espressos, as well as their first tomato sauces and veal in breadcrumbs.
Caterer What have been the most popular dishes over the years?
LL We were one of the first to have real Italian coffee machines - the pull-lever variety. You had to know what you were doing, but they were real fun. In terms of dishes, the escalope alla Milanese has always been very good, and the other great favourite is lasagne.
Caterer How much has the menu changed?
LL The philosophy behind the menu is the same. We still serve home Italian cooking based on value but made with fresh, quality ingredients. We don't use anything precooked or have central kitchens.
Caterer There is more competition around now. How do you differentiate yourselves?
LL We are different because we have a heritage that we stick to. We have an identity and a core offering that's liked by generations, but we combine that with more contemporary cuisine.
Caterer How have demands changed?
LL We've introduced sharing plates, and people like that conviviality. They're also 20% cheaper than selling the plates individually, so the customers feel like they're getting a good deal.
Caterer How do you maintain a family-run identity over all 11 restaurants?
LL My father, brother, sister and I still walk the restaurants. We eat there with our families. We've also got long-serving staff: some of our chefs have been with us for 35 years and the majority of our managers over 10 years.
Caterer What will the challenges be for the coming years?
LL The ongoing challenge is to remain relevant and marry that with the internal management and succession challenges we have. We're in the second generation and want to get the business through to the third generation, but my children are still young. The idea is to allow them the opportunity one day to at least have the choice.