Carlo Gatti – Italian/Swiss Immigrant, Victorian Business Entrepreneur, Ice-Cream Magnate

by KathleenDuffy

In 1847 Carlo Gatti, an Italian Swiss immigrant, arrived penniless at Dover. His natural talent for business strategy, marketing and business innovation made him a rich man.

Through hard work and determination, many immigrant communities have contributed to their host countries by adding cultural vibrancy and displaying an ethic of hard work and business acumen. In Victorian England Carlo Gatti was one such immigrant.

Carlo Gatti was born in 1817 in the Blenio Alpine Valley in Italian-speaking Switzerland. It was a poor, isolated area whose male inhabitants couldn’t wait to leave and find work in the newly-industrialised Europe.

Gatti was no exception. Initially, he seemed to lack ambition; he was not a scholar and often played truant. After a terrible beating at school Gatti never returned. Instead he walked to Paris, a journey of 600 miles, where his father had established a chestnut business.

Carlo Gatti - From Paris to London

Paris was full of lively cafes, serving all classes of people . These cafes provided coffee, ice cream and light music. Doubtless Carlo would have absorbed not just their atmosphere, but their management techniques and business strategies.

Carlo certainly didn’t settle down to the family chestnut trade and in 1847 at the age of 30 and married, he arrived at Dover.

Carlo began life in London running a coffee stall. Holborn was the Italian immigrant community and he probably lived there.

Two of his children died, an event that must have spurred Carlo on in his new-found ambitions to provide a better life for his family.

Carlo Gatti
Carlo Gatti

Carlo Gatti Victorian Business Entrepreneur


Battista Bolla, a chocolatier,  had premises at 129 Holborn Hill. In 1849 Carlo joined forces with him and they opened a café-restaurant.

To ensure that he attracted the crowds to their establishment,  Carlo imported a Parisian chocolate-making machine and placed it in the window where he proceeded to operate it every day.  

This did the trick!   People would peer in to see the exotic machine churning out chocolate, and of course,  they would be tempted to go in and try some for themselves!

Carlo Gatti and His Penny Ice

The year of the Great Exhibition, 1851, saw Carlo established as a pastry cook in the Great Hall of Hungerford Market off the Strand. In only four years he had five shops in the Great Hall and may have started selling his Penny Ice Cream to the public from here.

His Penny Ice was a great novelty.

Ice cream was usually reserved for the rich, but soon London streets were awash with Italian ice cream sellers or, Hokey Pokey men, so called as they tempted customers by saying, “Ecco un poco” – “Taste a little”.

Carlo Gatti - Fate Provides Opportunities

At Hungerford Market Carlo established a Parisian-style café which served coffee, ices and light music. This was a new type of venue for working people and families.

Two events ensured the increase in Carlo Gatti’s fortunes:

  •  The Hungerford Market burned down. He was insured and with the compensation seized the opportunity for expansion. In partnership with relatives he formed a music hall in the refurbished Hall.
  • The Hungerford Market was sold to make way for Charing Cross station. The Gattis received £7,750 compensation.
Old Hungerford Market 1805
Old Hungerford Market 1805

Carlo Gatti 's New Business Venture

Time for Carlo to become – an ice merchant!

It is thought that Carlo had a license to cut ice on the Regents Park Canal, but eventually he imported purer ice from Norway, becoming London’s largest ice merchant.  (The importation of ice from Norway into Britain makes an interesting story in its own right - read about it here.)

The ice was stored in his ice wells along the Regents Canal and delivered by horse and cart to Gatti's many customers.

The Gatti Family’s Business Portfolio

Carlo Gatti's careful business marketing, strategy and entrepreneurship led to various successful enterprises.

  • 1862 –Lambeth: a café-restaurant which became a music hall;
  • 1862 – Royal Adelaide Gallery, Refreshment Rooms.
  • 1864 – Carlo bought a new house/confectioner’s shop at 52 Strand
  • Carlo’s relatives opened famous restaurants at Strand and Piccadilly
  • 1867 – Carlo opened World’s Largest Billiard room and café-restaurant underneath the arches, Villiers Street
  • 1870 – Carlo bought small farm in Hendon.
  • 1870s –Gattis organised prom concerts and pantomimes at Covent Garden
  • 1880s – They had mains laid in Strand to light the Adelphi Theatre which they owned.
  • 1889 – Sir John Gatti formed the Charing Cross and Strand Electric Supply Company

Death of Carlo Gatti

When Carlo Gatti died on September 6th, 1878 at his home town of Dongio, he was 61 years old. All his London establishments closed for the day out of respect.

Gatti embodied the immigrant’s traditional desire for a new life through hard work, ingenuity and family loyalties.  



  • Coffee and Ices: The Story of Carlo Gatti in London by Felicity Kinross (Felicity Kinross, 1991 - now out of print)

And Don't Forget the Coffee Perculator!

Vintage - from ebay

You Might Enjoy These Other Articles of Mine

From the 1820s to the 1890s London merchants imported pure ice from the lakes and fjords of Norway. It was a thriving industry, requiring strength and skill from its workers.
The Oxford coffee house was the perfect meeting place for intellectually curious, and argumentative male students. But the Oxford University authorities were watching.
Brand name coffee shops dominate the high streets of London. Love them or hate them, their legacy is fascinating.
Updated: 12/12/2013, KathleenDuffy
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
KathleenDuffy on 12/17/2013

Thank you EmmaSRose! Yes, you are right - I think ice cream was definitely a stroke of genius! :)

KathleenDuffy on 12/14/2013

cmoneyspinner - Ha ha - any excuse to pig out! I'm with you there...especially on ice cream.

Mira - If you find that recipe I hope you share it! :)

Mira on 12/14/2013

This made me want to make ice cream sometime soon. I wish I had some famous recipes from that time. I do have some old Romanian recipes from the middle of the 19th century, actually. I'll have to look for it. Thanks for this! His life tells a lot about how cafe businesses in the food industry evolved.

cmoneyspinner on 12/13/2013

I am going to make my own ice cream one day. But first ... FIRST ... I have to try all of the other flavors and brands in the grocery stores and at the local ice cream shops. Hey! How else will I know if my home-made ice cream is any good?!! :)

KathleenDuffy on 12/13/2013

I guess there's a lot more red tape around these days to de-motivate people!

AbbyFitz on 12/12/2013

I wish more people were this motivated. I wish I was that successful!

KathleenDuffy on 12/12/2013

Yes, that work ethic seems to be deeply ingrained, along with hope!

ologsinquito on 12/12/2013

It sounds as if he worked very hard, as many immigrants do, to succeed in a new country.

You might also like

English Radical Writing in the 1790s

The French Revolution inspired English radicals to dare to fight for reform. ...

George Frideric Handel and The Foundling Hospital, London

In 1749 Handel conducted the first of his many charity concerts at The Foundl...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...