The Gem Electric Theatre, c.1910

For this instalment of Stories from Egham High Street, as part of the Our Changing High Street exhibition (now on at the Egham Museum), Chiara Artale visits Caffè Gondola and shares her experiences here.

The first Story from Egham High Street we want to talk about is the one shared by Alex, the manager of Caffè Gondola, an Italian style restaurant, placed just at the western end of the street. The restaurant position is particularly interesting as it has been, for a very long time, the cornerstone of the cultural life of Egham. At the 168 High Street in Egham, in fact, was based the Gem Electric Theatre and Cinema, one of the most important site for the entertainment of local residents, along with the Savoy Cinema which was positioned at the other end of the High Street.

The site is still beautiful and very well looked after. On all of its large walls around the big dining room are displayed many photos illustrating Venetian masks, the main characteristic of the restaurant that reminds us of its name.

Alex is a nice man and welcomed me with a gentle smile. It’s a sunny and warm day so we chat sit on a table outside to enjoy the nice weather. During the interview he offered me a coffee and we stayed there to talk for 20 minutes or so… He’s a friendly man and finds it easy to talk openly about his personal life with me in addition to his thoughts about Egham.

Caffe’ Gondola today, 2017

This is what he told me…

“I remember that when I came to live in Egham this place was a game shop. It was a small and old room, but then they renovated it and made it bigger.

I used to work in another restaurant and I used to pass by but I never entered because I didn’t have anything to do, I don’t like games or play stations and this stuff so… Then they opened this restaurant and offered me a job here. It’s very good. I can meet lots of people here as it is just in the centre of Egham and many people stop here to eat.

I’ve seen many changes here, from a games shop to a restaurant, to another restaurant… The name has changed from “Village bar” to Caffè Gondola, a Venetian style Italian restaurant.

I’ve heard people saying that this used to be a cinema or theatre, and now they’re going to make something else next year. This place is going to become smaller, they will divide the room and take out the back. There they’re going to do an Italian dance school. And on top of this building they’re going to do flats for students.

This place is really good, I love Egham because I’ve been here 20 years, so I have lots of memories. Egham is getting better, it’s getting worse just in terms of parking, but the area is getting better. When I arrived it used to be a very cosy small place with not many people. Now the students, that can be 5,000 or 10,000, make it more busy, but it is more exiting. Egham is near to everything, to London, to Windsor… It is wealthy. It is near to so many wealthy and rich places… It’s quiet and nice. And it’s very safe.

The restaurant manager is Albanian, and I’m Albanian too. And now we’ve been working together for the last 10 years. When you come from a different country, you always stay with your community. I’m friendly with everyone, I know everyone in this area, but we are not friends. I don’t go out with them, we don’t go for a drink or meal, but I talk to them, I know them all. Although we all know each other, we all stay in our own community”. This makes us feel  more safe and comfortable”.

Follow us next week for the next story from Egham High Street….

(Header photograph: aerial view of the High Street, with thanks to the late local photographer, Fred Parkin)

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