Victor Crolla

'Spiritual head' of Valvona & Crolla


Vittorio Crolla, shopkeeper: born Edinburgh 22 September 1915; died Edinburgh 17 November 2005.

For 40 years Victor Crolla was the family team leader at Valvona & Crolla, an Italian delicatessen famous not only in Edinburgh but among tens of thousands of festival and other visitors to the Scottish capital - a symbol of Scottish-Italian amity. The language in the shop was sui generis: a hybrid between Leith Scots and High Neapolitan. Now the business has customers across the UK through its mail-order delivery service.

The Crolla family came from the small village of Picinisco near Abruzzo between Rome and Naples in the heart of Italy. The village was famous for the sheep's-milk cheese pecorino. In 1906, Alfonso Crolla emigrated to Scotland and established a small ice-cream and confectionery business at Easter Road near the Hibernian football ground in Edinburgh.

Vittorio Crolla (he later took the name Victor) was born in 1915, the third of six children, and left Holy Cross School at 14 to work with his siblings in their father's business. Then in 1934, he joined Alfonso in setting up a delicatessen in Elm Row, at the top of Leith Walk, selling easily affordable food, mainly to the Italian immigrant community.

They teamed up with Raffaele Valvona, by that time an elderly shopkeeper who was thought by the Italian community to need the acumen of the Crolla family. Valvona demitted the scene in a friendly way but the firm kept his name.

When Italy declared war in June 1940 both Alfonso and his son Victor were interned as enemy aliens. Alfonso was one of the unfortunate Italian citizens who lost their lives off the west coast of Ireland when the Arandora Star, the unmarked cruise ship taking them to Canada, was sunk by a German U-boat on 2 July 1940. Victor was interned for five years on the Isle of Man. This proved to be the university to which he had not had the opportunity to go in peacetime. He applied himself to learning German and French and above all acquiring a musical education.

My first meeting with him was over the counter in his shop in 1950 when I told him how thrilled I had been to hear the orchestra and chorus of La Scala, Milan, at the Usher Hall under the baton of Victor de Sabata; and how electric another La Scala concert had been under Guido Cantelli, later to have his life cut short in a tragic car accident. It transpired quickly that Victor had fed most of the orchestra and chorus, if not the distinguished conductors, out of his own pocket. He was a huge supporter of the Edinburgh Festival and artists both famous and less famous, often in conjunction with his friend the impresario Richard Demarco.

In 1945 the Crolla family had to decide whether to go back to Italy or to try to pick up the pieces where they had left off in 1940. (It speaks volumes for the family's relationship with the Scots that during the Second World War the shop's loyal staff continued to keep it open so that there was a business to return to.) Victor would say: "Well, I was born and educated in Edinburgh and I was determined to make a go of it in Scotland."

He succeeded brilliantly, helped by the fact that a lot of returning troops from the Eighth Army and the First Army, who had fought up the spine of Italy, Monte Cassino and all, had acquired a taste for the Italian meats, olives and, above all, fine wines and cheeses. Having concentrated on inexpensive produce, Valvona & Crolla made the shrewd decision, as supermarkets began to undersell local businesses, to specialise by importing the best Italian food and drink. Victor Crolla's family - he was never to marry - became his customers and his counter was his soapbox and home.

He was a passionate European. In November 1971 he offered to give me a huge Italian cheese as a present for having been one of the 69 Labour Members of Parliament who voted against a three-line whip in the lobby of Edward Heath in order to go into the Community. I think he was offended when, with a politician's sense of self-protection, I declined to succumb to the temptation.

Crolla was a pioneer of healthy food, never failing to point out the virtues of low-cost tomatoes and packets of spaghetti. Ever thoughtful in educating his permanent and temporary staff, of whom my daughter was fleetingly one, he told them always to imagine that any customer who was bad-tempered was probably taking it out on them for something that had happened earlier in the day: "Imagine that that bad-tempered lady is your own mother. Make sure that every customer leaves happy!"

Victor Crolla stepped down in 1985, but, in the words of his nephew Philip Contini and his wife Mary who now run the shop, he continued to be "spiritual head of the store".

Tam Dalyell

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little