Published: 5 July, 2013
by YANNIC RACK
EIGHTY years ago, Ambrogio Forte opened the Star Café in Great Chapel Street. Today, chances are you’ll bump into Ian Hislop or Mike Leigh over coffee there – both are regulars at the now world-famous Soho institution.
The café has been serving Soho since 1933, as its website proclaims, and was taken over by Mario Forte, Ambrogio’s son and the current owner, in 1962.
Since then, he has seen a lot of come and go in his clientele.
“In the 50 years I’ve been here I’ve seen enormous changes, of course. Today there’s so much building work going on around us, so we get a lot of workers who are connected with the building industry.”
The workers though, can be more of a curse than a blessing to his business, because they mean that the area will have to face around five more years of heavy construction work for the giant Crossrail building project that has turned a buzzing area full of successful shops and cafés at the top end of Dean Street into what looks like a dead end to potential visitors.
“We are, in fact, in a desert. There’s building going on all around us, but we’re isolated in particular,” says Mario. “I know that the work will eventually be beneficial, but that is only if you survive the next few years.
“A lot of the small businesses here will not be able to do that, and they will just die.”
And although Crossrail is deterring tourists, Mario also mourns a general decline in small, independent businesses in the area, small production units that populated Soho in the 80s and 90s, before the surge of digital work.
“That was the whole of Soho, small businesses, whether they were selling feather boas or left-handed scissors,” he says.
“Now it’s becoming very difficult for small traders to survive, the rates and rents here are extraordinary and completely out of proportion.
“I would be surprised and delighted when most of these small shops in Soho somehow manage to survive.”