There are changes afoot at King & Godfree right now, but the building on the corner of Lygon and Faraday Streets in Carlton has never been a stranger to change.
Built in 1870 by architect Leonard Terry (who also designed the Melbourne Club in Collins Street), the building began its life first as a grocery store, then a licensed grocer owned by the Richards Brothers until 1884 when it was bought by Edward King and George Godfree. Edward and George owned and ran the store (and three others like it) until our grandfather, Carlo Valmorbida and his brothers bought it in 1955.
During Edward and George’s era there was no self-service. Customers would ask for what they wanted and smartly attired shop assistants would retrieve goods from the shelves behind the counter. While they chatting with the customers, they would weigh the goods and stack them on a large sheet of paper that would be wrapped around the goods and tied with string (no tape, no staples – wrapping was an art) so that they were easy to carry. This being a licensed grocer, it was also a discreet and respectable way to buy alcohol.
Service at King & Godfree was just one reason for its success. Another was its ability to change with the times. This was particularly important in a suburb like Carlton that had long been a magnet for new immigrants to Australia. Edward and George understood that a successful business had to anticipate the needs of its locals. So during the 1920s and 1930s, when more than two-thirds of Melbourne’s Jewish population – mostly from Eastern Europe – lived in Carlton. King & Godfree responded accordingly, establishing a kosher section of the shop overseen by a Rabbi that sold everything from smoked salmon to kosher wine.
Immigration into Australia after World War 2 saw large numbers of Italians moving into Carlton, just as the Jewish community were starting to move out. It seemed fitting then that an Italian family should buy King & Godfree from its namesakes and stick with the tradition of changing the shop’s focus to meet the needs of the locals.
But the real genius of our nonno Carlo, when he began stocking pasta, parmesan cheese, tinned tuna, olive oil, mineral water, olives, Italian wine and so on was that he recognised that non-Italian Australians would equally love these “exotic” foods. In the early days he would go around to other stores and leave a piece of parmesan cheese with them for free just so they could try it. He had no doubt that they’d like it and want to buy it. He was right and the store flourished.
Carlo responded to changing times the 1960s and 70s too, extending trading hours, turning part of the store into a boutique supermarket and the original grocery store into a wine and spirit store with a deli at the front. The old bluestone cellar was refurbished too and was used for tastings and product launches.
Now the next chapter of the King and Godfree story is underway. We’re invoking the energy of Edward and George and of nonno and his brothers – making changes, looking after the locals, being a part of the community. It’s a privilege to be part of the history. Watch this space.See More —