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A 1950s Soho Institution Is on the Verge of Closure

The coming demise of I Camisa and Son, the Italian deli on Old Compton Street, is emblematic of the current crisis facing restaurants

A deli counter, overhung with myriad cured Italian meats and backed by shelves carrying tinned fish, olive oil, and other delicacies.
I Camisa and Son’s astonishing counter, behind which great sandwiches are born.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

I Camisa and Son, the stalwart Italian deli that started life in Soho in 1929, is set to close after Christmas without the salvation of a buyer, according to Code. It is best known for its simple, stocky Italian sandwiches and Italian provisions which have been sold out of the Old Compton Street location since the 1950s.

The Soho Society has created a petition in support of its survival, imploring the freeholder of 61 Compton Street, Shaftesbury, to meet with Westminster Council in a bid to exploring some kind of solution. What that would entail is unclear, but both the petition and the owner of the deli, Italian importer Alivini, say that a rise in rent is contributing to the business’s precarity.

Alivini’s Gianni Segatta told Code: “We cannot run the business now. It’s very sad. It’s a historical brand and we love it, but everything is so difficult ... We don’t want to close it down, but in the end it’s pointless to carry on because we’re losing too much.”

But a spokesperson for Shaftesbury told Eater it had always supported the business and was sad it planned to close. “We are really sad that I Camisa & Son has decided to leave Old Compton Street to focus on their wholesale business,” a spokesperson said. “We have supported the business over the last 15 years, and more recently throughout the pandemic, and wish them every success in the future.”

Fans of the deli in the comments beneath the petition are more sentimental. “This shop should have protected status! It is a true Soho original”; “Please don’t raise their rent! This is an institution of real Italian food!! Love this place”; “We need independent shops that retain character. Enough greedy landlords who don’t understand cultural importance.”

The imminent closure of I Camisa, and the response to that closure, is emblematic of the crisis facing restaurants. Shaftesbury’s property strategy has indisputably reshaped Soho and Chinatown, with both areas increasingly curated to meet the wants and needs of investors and it is this that now makes places like I Camisa and Son such outliers. In becoming outliers, the strength of feeling surrounding them — and the strength of nostalgia for the “old Soho” they represent — only grows.

But property is just one part of the storm forcing the deli to admit that it cannot carry on in the current economic climate, and expressions of love and hope that Camisa can survive cannot be turned into the checks and balances that it requires to do so. This conversion of good will into cash isn’t unfamiliar to London restaurants, as it’s the base logic of crowdfunding, but as three independents are currently finding out, the old adage that money can’t buy love can cut both ways. As in the housing market, any scenario in which a tenant finds itself at the mercy of a landlord’s kindness is indicative not of the good in altruism, but of a breakdown of the economic and legal frameworks that should be in place as safeguards.

The nostalgia and adoration for what I Camisa and Son brings to an area like Soho is as powerless in the face of its closure as the deli itself is powerless, in the face of the restaurant market that should be able to accommodate it.