25th Anniversary for Cecchini family


The Cecchini family have just celebrated the 25th Anniversary of their restaurant of the same name in Ardrossan, one of two family-run. Susan Young paid a visit to Ardrossan to find out more.

I first met Anthony Cecchini at a Kopparberg dinner at Scott’s in Troon last summer and discovered that he came from Barga in Italy.

It is a village in Tuscany that I have visited on numerous occasions as my best friend, Silvia Corrieri Waterson, is also from there. In fact, half of the Italians from the hospitality industry in Scotland have a connection to the town. So when I saw the Mayor of Barga, Caterina Campani, had visited Cecchini’s to join in their 25th celebrations I was most impressed. And she enjoyed herself so much she is planning a return visit. There is a rumour that she would love Barga to twin with a town in Scotland and there is no doubt the Cecchini family would support a nomination for Ayrshire.

639499CD-45BA-49EE-ADAC-5B112B830FA4The Cecchini family story is well known in Ayrshire – Anthony’s father Aldo came over in 1965 with two of his friends to become waiters, that might have been another recruitment crisis that Scotland was having, but at that time it was also preferable to doing national service.  Despite the fact they arrived in January, hated the weather, and didn’t speak any English, they stayed.

Aldo joined the Suncourt Hotel in Troon and this was also where he met his wife Morag, who initially would only date him during the day because he was the first Italian she had met!

Over the years Aldo rose through the ranks and became very well-known as the hotel’s Head Waiter. Although he did have a break when he went to Boston for a short time with Aldo where they worked at the The Sonesta before deciding that they preferred Scotland and so they returned to Troon where Aldo rejoined the Suncourt Hotel.

In 1985 Morag and Aldo bought a wee coffee shop called Strawberry Cushion in Troon, although Aldo continued to work at the Suncourt. They drafted in the family to help, including Anthony. At the time he had a wee paper round.  He smiles, “I was getting £8 a week for my paper round, but when I went to work for dad washing dishes and making cappuccino, I only got £5. He told me at the time ‘you are working for family now!”

In 1989 Aldo, after being made redundant from the Suncourt Hotel, concentrated his efforts on Strawberry Cushion and they had also bought the former Penny Farthing in Troon – which in 1989 became the first Cecchini’s Ristorante. His customers who had known him for years at the Suncourt gave him their patronage.

6AAE9BF9-C5DF-458C-B306-F44739827507Meanwhile, Anthony, who was doing accountancy, helped out at weekends and in the evenings doing whatever else was required. The restaurant got busier and busier and coincidentally Anthony got made redundant from his accountancy job and decided to join the family business in 1991.

The father and son team worked well together. Says Anthony, “Although my dad was challenging when we were growing up – in that he was a typical strict Italian – you didn’t argue with him. He taught me a lot of life lessons. We always knew the value of money. For instance, I once asked him for pocket money and he gave me a bucket and sponge and told me to wash the car, which he then paid me for. But that led me to wash all the cars in the neighbourhood. I even had to rope in friends to help. I got 50p per car!

“He was definitely firm but fair and fun. He also insisted that we all did our fair share of chores in the house – we all could set a table, the way he wanted, which included a carafe of house wine, which we made at home. We bought grapes and then we got friends and neighbours round to help stomp on them… honestly!”

Anthony’s role at Cecchini’s in Troon was to do all the bookwork, tax, vat – all the numbers, which he did from a porta cabin at the back of the restaurant. The family had brought authentic Italian recipes to Troon, from family favourites established by his Nonno and Nonna. Says Anthony, “We brought a taste of Italy to Ayrshire.”

Then a chance coffee at what was the old Reganos in Ayr sparked an expansion for the family. Anthony explains, “We went in and spoke to Irish Pat, who owned it at the time, my dad asked if it was for sale, and before we left we had a deal. “We sold Strawberry Cushion. I went to Ayr and dad did Troon, and we did this one week about. We were always over in Italy bringing back ideas for the menu. It was a recipe for success.” Anthony didn’t confine himself to the accountancy side of the business. He became proficient in the kitchen through the years – from his early days washing dishes, he went on to be a reasonable cook too. He smiles. “I was shy and I initially preferred back of house.” Well seen that was then!

He also did a hospitality degree – through day release and by the time he was 30 he was a director of the business having bought himself in.

In Ayr, the success of the business meant they decided to extend the 60-seater restaurant to 100 after buying the place next door. But in Troon, the difficulty was they couldn’t expand into neighbouring properties so in 2007 they sold Cecchini’s Troon and bought premises in Ardrossan.

FA3D3229-56EF-4505-9725-0B11290D3483Like his dad before him he too met his wife through work 25 years ago. He says, “Jacqui was a paralegal and used to come into Cecchini’s in Troon. It was meeting his wife that led to venue number three. Anthony says “Jacqui was from Ardrossan and I used to spend some time there but there was only The Laurieston to go to. One day when I was out sailing with her dad I saw a building for lease/sale at the Clyde Marina – it was where he had his office. He explained that they wanted leisure at the marina and that he was moving to Largs.

“I called my dad and told him to meet me in Ardrossan at the marina. He and I both knew it was the place for us. So we sold Troon in 2007 and opened Cecchini’s Bar, Restaurant and Bistro in Ardrossan in 2008 having built a large conservatory onto the building. We get the sun all day. It is the perfect location and it was busy from day one. People used to queue to get in. It is still busy today.”

I asked him how the business fared during lockdown. “We furloughed the staff, closed the business and we did takeaways. Both Jacqui and I drove and delivered the food… but we eventually ended up hiring some local taxi drivers because of the demand.

In fact, the takeaway business we built up is still going strong today. The business, since the pandemic, has been very steady. Says Anthony, “The first year after lockdown was really good, now it has plateaued a bit, but we thought it would take a downturn in November but it didn’t. I think people were so peeved off last Christmas that they want to keep going out now. They have the mindset, ‘If I want to go out on a Tuesday, I will.”

Aldo and his wife Morag stepped back from the business a few years ago, but Aldo still comes in for coffee and to discuss the business regularly, and Anthony’s wife Jacqui is involved back of house. Says Anthony, “I have a strong work ethic and am not planning on retiring any time soon. But I do like to spend as much time as I can on the golf course. It is my other passion. Perhaps my daughters will take over the mantle?”

As for Barga, the family have a house there and so far Anthony has been out there three times this year. He smiles, “As Italians, we are proud of our heritage – we like to go back and visit. Indeed we helped fund the restoration of an old church there by doing a fundraiser in Ayr. We funded the roof! There are so many people we know there – it’s great. I would love it if we could twin with them.”

Well, now that he has introduced Caterina Campani the Mayor of Barga to Iain Campbell Provost of South Ayshire “Tutto è possible!”


Category: Interviews, Licensee Interview, News, Restaurant
Tags: Aldo Cecchini, Anthony Cecchini, Cecchini’s