Sad farewell to Brick Lane’s Philip Christou after 51 years of Gina’s café

PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 October 2012

Philip Christou in his kitchen (Picure: Spitalfields Life)

Philip Christou in his kitchen (Picure: Spitalfields Life)

Spitz Life

Regulars at Brick Lane’s Sunday market in London’s East End were in shock this week at the death of Gina’s Restaurant owner Philip Christou, who had kept open one day a week for his loyal customers even though he had retired.

The café first opened in Brick Lane in 1961, but had to move following a council compulsory purchase order for slum clearance in 1972, ending up at 17 Bethnal Green Road.

Philip had only recently told his story on the Spitalfields Life website.

“We used to open every day,” he said. “But what’s the point in killing yourself when you only have a few years left?”

Gina confessed that she cried when she first saw the restaurant in Brick Lane that Philip bought with three filthy rooms above.

“I said I can’t live in this,’” she shrieked, at the recollection of having to move with her one-month-old son in 1961 into a flat with no bathroom and a rat infested toilet in the back yard.

But they set about decorating with wallpaper samples—they had no money. The café walls ended up all different coloured squares, but it brought in the customers—the start of a loyal following that has lasted 51 years.

They opened every Christmas only for pensioners to serve them lunch.

The restaurant became a unlikely commercial success when long-distance lorry drivers who parked at Aldgate discovered it as they walked up Brick Lane on their way to Bethnal Green’s Well & Bucket pub.

Within a month it became famous for lorry drivers—sometimes with queues outside.

The Gentle Author’s tribute on his Spitalfields Life website said on Monday: “Sundays at Gina’s with Philip in the kitchen and Gina behind the counter were a long-standing ritual in this corner of the East End.

“Many of the fly-pitchers who trade on the pavement outside, hassled by council officials, were pensioners who sold a few of their possessions simply to buy a Sunday lunch at Gina’s.

“They continued to open just on Sunday for lunch, out of loyalty to their customers, many of whom are old friends now. It is a devotion that was reciprocated by those for whom weekends in the East End would be unimaginable without Sunday roast at Gina’s.”

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