The 3rd story from Egham High Street that Chiara is going to tell us about this week is the Villa Rosa restaurant. Chiara went to visit them and had a chat with Pasquale, the owner and manager of the business.
I arrived at the Villa Rosa at around 3:30pm, when the restaurant started to be less busy after the lunch shift. The internal space is quite simple, but the environment is cosy and there is a very friendly atmosphere.
We sit at one of the tables in the big room by the counter and I showed Pasquale, owner and manager, a 20th century photo of an aerial overview of Egham which he’s very interested in. I also showed another photo of around the same period, of an old pub and hotel called The King’s Head, which used to be one the main social cornerstones of the area. This pub and hotel was situated in a place which is now part of The Precinct, where Villa Rosa is situated today. Inevitably, a good part of our talk has been about the changes and renovations soon to happen at The Precinct. Both at ease to speak in our native language, he starts to share his thoughts and memories with me…
“In 1983, some friends of mine bought this restaurant. It was not called Villa Rosa, but Il Porto, always an Italian restaurant. A client who comes often here to eat said to me that before 1983 it was still a restaurant owned by an English man, but the manager was Portuguese (I think the name was Antlers like the owner’s name). As the manager was Portuguese they used to cook Mediterranean style food. Then in 1983 it became an Italian restaurant.
When I came here for the first time to see this restaurant it was 1986. Now I’ve been here for 19 years. Although it was already a restaurant, the place required many renovations. For example, there were some arches dividing the room, and the part behind the arches was used just during weekends, while the front area was the principal room. Then there at the back was a toilet and the main kitchen. When I arrived we removed the arches and renovated everything, new furniture, new electrical equipment, new toilet, new canteen…. everything new, apart from the kitchen, as the previous owner had already renovated it just a bit before I bought the restaurant. I did lots of jobs. Now I would need a new renovation, but for the moment we need to wait because, you know that all of these buildings have been bought by the council and in 2020/2021 they will work on this side. It’s useless to spend money now, when I still don’t know if we’ll be allowed to remain here or not.
Egham is a strange town, I have conflicting feelings towards it. Unfortunately in the last few years we saw bad changes, for example the replacement of very good companies to other less important, and the problem of the lack of parking. Before, behind there was a very big free parking, and the access to the High Street was much easier. Now it’s a payment parking and it’s expensive too.
When the big chains arrived, Caffe’ Nero, Costa, Subways, Greggs, it has lost its identity. It’s not exclusive and unique as it was once. While before there were lots of individual shops, like for example a girl who used to sell handicraft objects made by herself, or another shop selling electrical goods. There was also a rugs shop just here next to us. Now it’s full of charity shops, because they receive tax breaks so they can afford to pay the high prices. Here it’s very expensive, and this is also due to these big chains. They have money to spend so they are able to pay more and this reflects on all the other prices. Prices go up and everyone has to pay more.
University is another important factor. When the university is open and there are lots of students around this helps the local economy. Lots of landlords rent their flats to the students and economy goes on, but when university is closed we notice it immediately, from taxi drivers, to restaurants, even Tesco, everyone complains when the students go away. Egham survives thanks to the students.
Egham is a good place for citizens. You are in London in just half-an-hour, and near Windsor. The surrounding area is very beautiful too as it is by the Surrey countryside. I think I could live well here, apart from high prices. From this point of view locals and business owners have the same problems.
Between business owners in Egham High Street there is in general a good relationship. With some more than with others, but at the end everyone is on their own. They tried to create something at one point, like doing promotions and discounts between us, between business owners in the High Street. They asked me if I wanted to be part of it and I gave my availability. This happened a couple of years ago, but unfortunately the proposal didn’t continue and I’ve never heard any more from them. We are all still closed inside our communities”.
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)