Across the road from the Post Office was The Cross Café, known to all as ‘Ben’s café’. Benedetto Pignatelli had come to Scotland in the early years of the 20th century and in 1924 opened the café in Kilmacolm. He and his wife, as I remember, had three daughters with them: Lena, Mabel and Margaret. Lena married and lived in Italy and the younger girls helped in the shop. They were a lovely family. Mrs Pignatelli was plump and pretty and Ben always had a smile and a friendly word. My first visit was probably 1929, and over the years I got to know Mabel and Margaret and loved going into the shop. When I was big enough to see over the counter, the Saturday Penny would be spent on a ‘sugar-ally strap’ or a liquorice stick. Or it could be a sherbet dip and a lucky potato, which might contain a ha’penny! There were Cowan’s toffees, Dolly Mixtures, Jelly Babies, ha’penny and penny bars of Cadbury’s milk chocolate and lots more. It was Aladdin’s cave to the Saturday Penny brigade. You got a lot for your coin! Then there was the ice cream, made at the other side of the shop. It was the best ever. After I started school Mum would sometimes meet me at home time and we’d walk out to the Toll. First, we’d go into the Café and ask Ben if he would keep my case till we came back – which he always did and occasionally asked if I was going to come and work in his Café when I grew up!
Later this year (2014) the Café will celebrate 90 years. For some years it has been lovingly cared for by Alda and Joanna, Ben’s granddaughters, and daughters of Mabel and Johnny. Alda and Joanna are the last descendants of Ben and his wife in the UK and are looking to retire before long. On a recent visit to Kilmacolm we had coffee and ice cream in the Cross Café, and many happy memories were revived. They still sell a good few of the old-style sweeties. It will be a sad day if The Cross loses the Café but whatever the outcome, for many like myself who have known it since childhood it will always be a cherished memory.