Leeds’s flamboyant Italian restaurant owner Gilda Porcelli has - at the age of 81 - finally hung up her apron after 32 years at the helm of her city centre eatery.
Gilda, the opera-singing owner of Pasta Romagna on Albion Place, has handed over her business to close family friends Alessandro Roberto, 29, and his father ‘Mimmo’.
It was a tough decision for the popular proprietor - known to loyal customers for her showmanship and playing loud opera music - but she is confident it is in “very good” hands, with Mimmo having worked with her for the past 10 years and Alessandro first working for her when he was 15.
She told the YEP she has loved working at the restaurant all these years. She said: “Every morning you get up and go to work and it’s wonderful, making people happy. And when you’re happy at work you just want to carry on. Look at the Queen, she’s still going because she loves her job.”
Gilda has been a colourful personality on the Leeds dining scene for years, after first launching the restaurant in 1983. When Leeds City Council threatened her in 2001 with a fine of up to £20,000 if she did not turn the music down, she launched the “Save Gilda’s Music” campaign... and won.
Her son James - who worked at the restaurant before going on to run Primo, on Wellington Street, in 2012 - said his mum has been key to its success.
“She was absolutely everything - her passion for the business and the people of Leeds. She’s always said she was born in Italy but Leeds is her home.”
But he said the restaurant is in safe hands with Alessandro and Mimmo: “They understand the ingredients and customers - which is important. We’ve three generations of customers that have been coming here over the years and we don’t want to lose that.”
Alessandro said they hope to build on the solid foundation Gilda started, with a few new additions such as Italian craft beers, a more deli-style feel and opening later on weekends.
“This really is a family business and we’ve roped the full family in to work, you will regularly see my wife, sister, brother and mum behind the counter - and Gilda of course checking up on us all,” he added.