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The Sacarello Dynasty

The Beginnings of Sacarello’s

Bartholomew Sacarello and his familyIt was trade which brought the very first Sacarello to Gibraltar in 1817. Giovanni Batista Sacarello was the captain of a brigantine which plied the Mediterranean carrying wool and hides, he hailed from Spotorno in North-Western Italy where Mount Sacarello stands. Giovanni found Gibraltar much to his liking especially in the form of one Maria Bignone, her family also hailed from the same corner of Italy near Mount Bignone and their union is still referred to as ‘The Marriage of Two Mountains’; Giovanni had travelled hundreds of miles only to end up with the girl next door!

Together Giovanni and Maria founded the Sacarellos of Gibraltar, but the founder of today’s business was their grandson Bartholomew who in 1888 established B Sacarello Limited and by the turn of the 19th Century B. Sacarello Limited was the Rock’s leading provisions merchant.

Gibraltar in those days had to import almost everything it consumed, and fortunes were waiting to be made. The Sacarellos dealt in everything from spaghetti to safety machines, from sacks of flour to buckets of lard. Bartholomew sold not only in Gibraltar but also in Spain and Morocco and before long he was wealthy. He soon realised the future was in coffee as it had been an increasingly profitable part of the business for some years, so he gradually jettisoned the other imports and concentrated on bringing in the finest coffee beans from Africa and South America.
The highest quality Arabica and Robusta beans arrived on the Rock to be first roasted, then blended into different brands to suit a variety of palettes and Sacarello coffees soon became very popular in Gibraltar and throughout the South of Spain.

On the death of Bartholomew, the young Federico took over the business at the age of only 17. He’d had youthful dreams of becoming an engineer, but his mother had pointed sternly at an empty desk in the family office, and that was the end of that. Soon afterwards, the Spanish dictator Primo de Rivera closed the border gates, and Federico had to work extra hard to support his widowed mother and a large family of a brother and sisters. It was the first episode in a repeating cycle of problems caused by the whims of governments in Madrid; the twenties and thirties were turbulent and uneasy times for Gibraltar with the Spanish Civil war on their doorstep. After the Spanish Civil War Federico with his younger brother Bartolo sold vast amounts of coffee to Spain, and the Negrita brand in particular became so popular in Southern Spain that it was referred to in one of the chirigotas of the Cadiz carnival. With Spain then bereft of basic commodities such as tobacco and coffee Gibraltar became a major outlet for these products. Federico was forty seven by the time he married but the late union soon produced four sons and the business continued to thrive until Spain closed the frontier to Gibraltar in 1969 which had a huge effect on everything in Gibraltar, particularly the import & export trade. The Sacarello business continued through these tough times and the eventual opening of the border in 1985 led to increased demand for Sacarello coffees, both from tourists and from the expanding number of retail and catering outlets on the Rock.

From merchant house to coffee shop

Richard, Federico and Patrick Sacarello circa 1988After suffering the decline of the 70s and early 80s two of Federico’s sons, Patrick and Richard tried to find ways of recovering business and it was in 1985 that local heritage conservationist John Langdon designed the conversion of the front warehouse into a small coffee shop and the centuries-old Sacarello building in Irish Town was then opened to the public keeping all the old coffee grinding and packaging equipment as a feature to enhance the atmosphere of a nineteenth century coffee establishment. As it was seen as a fine example of an old building put to a modern use whilst retaining its character, HRH Duke of Gloucester, Patron of the Friends of Gibraltar Heritage Trust visited Sacarello’s and Irish Town soon after the new cafe was opened. Sacarellos soon became one of the most stylish places in town and in 1994 due to growing demand, John Langdon’s services were required again who along with Richard’s wife Odile Sacarello redesigned and converted the remaining part of the warehouse into a full-blown kitchen with extended seating areas.

Today, the café-restaurant is managed by Patrick Sacarello after an amicable separation of the business with Richard in 2009 where Richard retained the coffee company; bringing the Sacarello dynasty into the 21st Century. As well as being a showplace for Sacarello coffees, Sacarello’s sells a select range of up-market produce from superior wines, jams, marmalades to exclusive chocolates and speciality teas. At Christmas time they are renowned for their gift hampers comprised of the best British, Spanish and Irish goodies with their own locally roasted coffees. On the wholesale side coffee is roasted, ground and then sold, together with wines and other speciality foods, to the bars, cafes and restaurants around Gibraltar.

Patrick and Richard Sacarello had an ambition to recreate the tradition of a coffee house as a place not just for pleasure, but for doing business-an exchange for ideas, information and intrigue. It’s a tradition started by Lloyds of London that stretched throughout many of the capitals of Europe in the last century, and which was highly popular in Gibraltar too. Long may these very old family businesses continue to survive helping maintain the unique character of Gibraltar with its magic blend of British and Latin cultures.

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