King & Godfree has been operating since 1884. It only started specialising in Italian food and wine when Carlo Valmorbida bought the business in the 1950s. He starting importing his favourite Italian foods including pasta, tuna, canned tomatoes and Italian espresso coffee to sell to post-war European immigrants who were hungry for a taste of their home products. In many respects he was a pioneer not only in giving Italian migrants the food and wine they had been accustomed to in their mother country, but also by introducing it to the wider Australian community.
We sat down with Carlo’s wife, Nonna Elsie, over an espresso and some biscotti to chat to have a chat about the early days.
When did Carlo arrive in Australia?
Nonno arrived here on 16th December 1949. His first job that he took was with McRobertson’s Chocolates in Fitzroy, he then went to work at Phillips Radio.
How did he get started in King & Godfree?
A friend of his talked to him about working at Agostino & Co which he eventually did. It was the continental grocery shop run by Mr Frank Agostino in Swanston Street, Carlton opposite the brewery. The shop was very old and run down. At the time it was not making any money and the man running it, Mr Agostino, was pretty old and sick.
And he went on to buy the business?
Nonno thought, well, I’m not going to keep working here, I’ll leave and start my own business. In March of 1950 Nonno told Mr Agostino he was going to leave. Mr Agostino then asked Nonno if he’d like to buy the business. Seeing as Nonno had grown up working in his parents’ two grocery stores back in Italy he decided to buy it. He borrowed money from his father and Nonna’s father (Nonno Jack) Nonno’s family arrived in April that year. They re-opened Agostino’s for business on 1st January 1951.
How did the store go since Carlo took over?
It went so well that they repaid their loans in under six months. There were queues of people lining up that would go in the front door and leave out the back. That’s when Nonno got the idea of importing more goods from Italy. He hired an Australian to run the business back home so he could go off to Italy to find food suppliers, Mr Heigens. He hired an Australian rather than an Italian because he didn’t want an Italian stealing his methods.
To be continued…See More — carlton / Italian