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In 1979, Glasgow's Merchant City seemed an epoch away from the vibrant cosmopolitan place it now is. Elegant streets and stylish buildings constructed by the city's 18th and 19th century fathers were neglected, shabby and down-at-heel - not remotely the kind of area likely to attract restaurant-goers. In fact there were no restaurants.
That was about to change. When Iain Mackenzie, Cafe Gandolfi's founder, saw the empty offices of the city's old cheese market, he had the clear-eyed vision to open an original, trendsetting and stylish cafe at the very heart of Glasgow.
It was a leap of faith on Iain's part but he was on to a winner. As a photographer, he brought a sophisticated aesthetic both to the interior and to the food. And of course, its name - Gandolfi - which was inspired by the company founded by Louis Gandolfi that made cameras which have been synonymous with fine photography for 120 years.
Iain brought a pioneering spirit and an authentic European sensibility: Gandolfi introduced Glasgow's first cappuccino machine and gave the city its first taste of real cafe society. Glasgow needed to change and Gandolfi arrived at the right time.
The admired furniture maker Tim Stead, a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, was asked to make the sinewy, sculpture-like yet comfortable tables and chairs. With a patina acquired through constant use, the furniture is even more beautiful now than it was 30 years ago. Glass painter John Clark later installed "A flock of fishes", the two stained glass panels that splash colour on to the big main windows.
When I arrived at Gandolfi in 1983 it was to peel potatoes and chop red cabbage and carrots but as I walked through the door for the first time I was entranced by the big, bright, L-shaped room with its wood panelling, soaring ceiling and marvellous tables and chairs.
At this stage, of course, I couldn't imagine that Gandolfi would ever be mine - but I did know that I wanted a business, a restaurant. By 1995, I'd been a kitchen porter, a charge hand, manager and co-owner and when Iain decided to sell his share of the business to me it was like having the flame passed on - I was committed to Gandolfi remaining the same.
Iain and I had deeply shared values: we both have Hebridean antecedents, his in Lewis, mine in Barra. We were two Gaels in Glasgow running a restaurant with an Italian-sounding name committed to serving the very best of Scottish produce, so the formula was unique.
Gandolfi had a warmth, a magic about it, a comfortable, unselfconscious feel. That hasn't changed and continuity is a major part of its allure. People return time and time again, sometimes after a year, two years or more and the restaurant is the same, the heart of the menu is the same and that's the beauty of the place.
I've always believed that the easy part in this business is opening a restaurant. The real challenge is working tirelessly to maintain the standards our customers have come to expect. They appreciate this sense of reassurance and that's why they are so loyal.
Look at today's Merchant City: it's become a high energy, cultural magnet with dozens of restaurants and an explosion of choice of cuisines. Cafe Gandolfi can claim to have sparked this renaissance and 40 years later it's still unique. While many have tried to emulate the formula, no one has succeeded.