Silvio Ciccone of ‘Silvio’s’ Cafés

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With five stores currently open in Shoreditch, ranging from coffee shops to gormet sandwich set-ups, Silvio’s fever seems to be in the East London air.

“Working here, it actually takes us by surprise!” Says managing director Silvio Ciccone, “We’ve been here for 20 years. We invested into an area that was originally, heavily bomb damaged, very low rentals, all the rag trade and lots of abandoned warehouse spaces.”

Years later, Silvio’s couldn’t have predicted the running success of the area, helped majorly by the growth of local technology industries from printers and millennium bug resistors to site developers, web apps and creative designers. Whatever the trend, Silvio’s has borne witness to the story of the Shoreditch tech storm.

“You just see it here, the big thing that’s about to come about in the next four years almost starts here now. But then the problem is when there’s a recession… The area falls, but then amazingly comes back up with big new ideas - and at the moment it’s booming again.”

Sitting in his most recent acquisition on Ravey St, it’s easy to see how Silvio can remain so optimistic at a time of apparent international financial crisis. Despite the times, customers roll through the door to order their coffees, pastries and sandwiches on a regular basis. This is unsurprising, as Silvio passionately describes how the area has managed to scrape itself up from a desolate wasteland of crumbling bombsites to the epitome of modern hipster culture. It's more than the ‘bounce-back’ mentality of the area that sparks his interest, he sees the success of Shoreditch as a counter action to the ‘Ikea Mentality’ of the noughties. The over-consumption of mass produced material things has led to a desire for something more authentic, and the historic chimney tops that scatter the skyscape here have exactly that real, timeworn vibe about it.

“Because it was so poor, no one actually ripped it apart 20 years ago…and turned it into an 80’s construction, it sort of morphed in time. The buildings were empty and derelict, and just at the right time when ‘retro’ was becoming cool, the real, original features here are now worth an absolute fortune.” 

Silvio compares Shoreditch’s rise to glory to that of Soho, where his close-by flagship store is nestled next to Selfridges. Once the star of the show, the central London store limelight has now been stolen by his East-end shops, “Suddenly our west end store, which has always been the fashionable one by Selfridges, has lost that sort of cool factor…No one wanted a shop in Shoreditch for the last 20 years, now it’s gold dust!” Silvio also attributes his success in Shoreditch to a kind of ‘anti-establishment’ feeling in many local people, who treasure niche family businesses over the multi-national, super brands.

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Silvio’s roots as a family business are not just telling from Ciccone’s emphasis on the ‘personal touch’ as a businessman, “We’re a very close team, all the guys we work with, it’s very family orientated. They know my family, my extended family and so we try and keep it personal." Silvio explains, a point that is well illustrated by the black and white images that grace the walls of each of his café’s. “I find it quite embarrassing to put my family up and shout it off” Silvio blushes, showing pictures that reveal little glimpses of Silvio’s history; a faraway world that holds steaming cups of Bovril, Spam sandwiches and hot chocolates for a penny.   

Things have changed a lot from those days, where Silvio’s was once an en-masse provider for the workingman’s lunch. Based on Cannon St, the original company would make up to 2,000 sandwiches per day. Silvio’s now caters for a very different kind of client; made to order sandwiches with the very finest ingredients, pure Italian coffee beans and homemade pastries fill the cafes with the delicious aroma that comes with a more gourmet establishment.

Silvio ensures his café has a strong continental approach to coffee with the focus on quality beans and smaller sizes rather than following the American style ‘buckets of coffee’, which he admits, was guilty of in the past. This all changed when, much to his dismay, many Australian cafes popped up in the area who were making coffee the authentic Italian way, “What they’ve done is come from Australia, selling the traditional coffee with a little bit of latte art, spending a bit more time, the coffee tastes fantastic and people are buying into that. I thought ‘I’m not going to have the Australians showing me how to do Italian coffee!’ ”

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A love for their product is the key, “First and foremost it’s a passion and a love for the food… The passion is there, we enjoy what we do and that makes it easier.” Says Silvio. His passion for excellent produce shows through by their carefully selected suppliers, staying close to his Italian roots Silvio’s uses quality Italian meats and cheeses or keeps it local by using East London based bakeries for all of their breads.

“It’s one of these jobs where you’ve got one of the biggest honours…It’s a very intimate thing, and people take it for granted going into a shop. There’s not many people you’d let that close to your mouth. So we make sure what we sell is great quality, if you wouldn’t eat it, and you wouldn’t feed it to your own children, then don’t sell it.”

Silvio's have been tenants of The Estate Office Shoreditch for twenty years.