Nardini's Cafe was built on the grounds of Auchenean House, which can be seen on maps dating back to 1820's. The grounds of Auchenean House became available in 1934. The two bidders for the site were the Pietro Nardini and Harry Kemp the king of North Ayrshire Amusements at the time. Mr Kemp, wanted to build a cinema on the site.
During the bidding process a solicitor for Mr Kemp apparently got cold feet when the bidding went to £4400 and the Nardini family secured the site. Mr Kemp later claimed that he would have but the bid up to £10,000 if he had been there himself. For years the villa of Auchenean still stood at the back of the cafe s until it was demolished as part of the McCarthy and Stone redevelopment of the site. It was used as offices and a store.
On its opening day over 4000 customers attended the cafe's opening. It held 300 persons while the restaurant had seating for 150.
Pietro died soon after and his son Nardino and two brothers opened Nardini’s café in 1935, eventually passing down to the next generation to Nardino’s children Nadia, Aldo, Pietro and Fabo.
The cafe was often described as the most elaborate of its kind in Scotland with its facilities providing the height of comfort and luxury. It soon became one of the most popular business of its kind in the West of Scotland.
A carry out fish supper cost sixpence. A fish tea was 1s 9d
When the cafe opened a bandstand was included (which is still there) and a 4 to 6 man orchestra in neat tunics played along with a male singer who would move across the tables serenading the ladies.
The outbreak of WW2 was a difficult time for the Nardinis. When Mussolini sided with Hitler all able bodied Italians were sent into interment on the Isle of White. This was particularly ironic to Pietros brother Augusto since he has served in the Italian army with the allies in World War 1.
Later this rule was changed but not before they had spent 3 years on the Isle of Wight. The wife’s of the brothers successfully carried on the business in their absence.
In its heyday the popularity of Nardini's was un equalled. It provided refreshments for hordes of holiday makers and day-trippers who would arrive at Largs by train or by steamer to the pier. In 1974 they built an ice-cream plant behind the cafe.
Nardini's soon became famous for their award-winning ice cream with their many prize trophy’s displayed above the coffee machines.
In 1997 a successful local businessman Mr David Hendry was asked to help turn round the business which at that time was on the brink of liquidation. Mr Hendry's appointment into the business divided the family especially between Aldo and Peter and their cousins Ricardo, Roberto and Fabio who were also board members. Legal arguments broke out within the family mainly on the differences in moving the business forward. Eventually Ricardo, Roberto and Fabio left the family business.
For a time the business began to improve. A major cash investment was made to bring the ice cream manufacturing up to European standards and plans were made to franchise the Nardini brand by opening up new cafe's across Scotland. However by this time the business disagreements yet again began to divide the remaining family members apart and again their numbers reduced with Aldo eventually leaving the board.
Further legal disagreements followed regarding the use of the name Nardini. Sadly in 2003 Nardini's went into receivership and the site was put up for sale.
In 2004 a consortium which included Tony Macaroni owner Giuseppe Marini was formed to purchase the site and restore the cafe to its former glory. The land at the back of the Cafe was sold to make way for a McCarthy and Stone Flats development and the case raised for this helped fund the cafe refurbishment.
After lying empty and disused for four years the new Nardini cafe opened in December 2008 following a £2.5 million refurbishment. In 2015 the Sunday Mail named Largs’ Nardini’s the best ice cream parlour in Scotland.
More information about Nardini's can be found on their web site.