Webpage created: September 18, 2019
Webpage updated: September 18, 2019
The Plymouth business house of Messrs Genoni Brothers, Swiss Restaurant, was at 38 George Street before the Second World War and remained at that address until it was demolished.
It would seem that the first member of the Genoni family to settle in England was 27-years-old Carlo Genoni, who was a confectioner at 52 High Street, Wimbledon, Surrey, in 1881.
A decade later he was married and a restaurant keeper at 80 North End, Croydon, Surrey.
Meanwhile, two more members of the family, all born in Semimone, Switzerland, were in business at 1 Hill Road, Wimbledon. 36-years-old Clement Genoni was the restaurant keeper and on his staff was his 21-years-old brother, Aldo, who was a waiter.
None of this was connected with Plymouth, however, where, in 1884, two gentlemen by the names of Ferrari and Pizzotti, from Gatti's, in London, had opened The Grand Swiss Cafe et Restaurant at 167 Union Street, fulfilling, so their adverts claimed, a long felt want. They were advertising chops, steaks and cutlets from the grill, a large stock of foreign and British wines, Bass and Guinesse (sic) ale and stout, and Amstel Lager Beer. They also served French pastries and Neapolitan ices to tempt the ladies, who could dine in their own private rooms.
Quite why the Genoni brothers chose to take on this restaurant, 250 odd miles from their main base, is not known but by 1895 they had certainly taken over running this establishment. The 1901 census shows that it was Mr Aldo Genoni who was based in Plymouth, with his new wife, Gulia, and 2-years-old, Plymouth born, daughter, Marie Dorothy Genoni.
In 1919 the restaurant was moved from 167 Union Street to 38 George Street. On December 1st 1919 Mr Aldo Celeste Genoni assigned the goodwill of the old cafe to Mr Camillo Bottacchi, of 171 Brixton Road, London, and Mr Marino Ferraris, of 95 Lambeth Palace Road, London, for £250. The transfer was on condition that they did not use the name 'Swiss Cafe' in connection with the premises.
It was the only central restaurant open after 7pm.
During the 1920s and 1930s it was a very popular rendezvous, especially for visiting celebrities. Among those known to have visited Genoni's were Lord Louis Mountbatten, when his ship, HMS Kelly was in port; Mr John Mills, the actor; Mr Noel Coward, the playwright; Mr Robert Newton, the actor, during his time at the Royal Naval Barracks; Mr Michael Redgrave, actor; Mr Robert Donat, actor; Lord Attlee; and Mr T E Lawrence, when he was serving at RAF Mount Batten. It was a very plush restaurant and was the first in Plymouth to offer candle-lit tables and suffused lighting.
Mr Aldo Genoni died in 1931 and his daughter, by now Mrs Marie Dorothy Hanika, took over control.
In March 1941, at the height of the Plymouth Blitz, the kitchen and restaurant were destroyed when incendiary bombs fell on the roof. Mrs Hanika was on the premises at the time.
After the War the frontage was refurbished and new glass windows installed but the main body of the building was never reconstructed and was just a Nissen hut. In those circumstances it started to lose its appeal. As neither of Mrs Hanika's two daughters wanted to continue the business, she put it up for sale but there were no takers. They were even offered a replacement site adjacent to the new Drake Cinema but that did not tempt a buyer. Finally, in June 1959 the Council announced that it would be demolished to make way for the new City Centre.
Closing night came on Saturday August 15th 1959. Diners packed into the restaurant, where they were entertained by Mr Herbert Cook at the piano. Mrs Hanika called forward her serving staff and they were given three cheers by the diners. This was followed by a round of "For she's a jolly good fellow" for her.
Mrs Marie Dorothy Hanika died at the Rowcroft Hospice in Torquay on May 31st 2002 and was cremated at the Torbay Crematorium on Monday June 10th 2002. She had reached the grand old age of 103 years.