November 26th 1908 saw the birth of Charles Carmine Forte in Casalattico, Italy.
Baron Forte, as he was to become, worked in his relatives Italian cafe in the High Street, on his arrival in Scotland from Italy. He expanded a tiny London milk bar (snack bar), which he opened in 1934, into Trusthouse Forte PLC, a vast international enterprise that included highway service centres, restaurants, airport caterers, breweries, wine merchants, and a string of accommodations that ranged from the moderate-priced Travelodge motel chain to such luxury hotels as London’s Waldorf and Grosvenor House.
And what is all this got to with Scotland? Forte settled in Scotland at the age of four, where his father Rocco set up a cafe, he also worked at his Uncle Alfonso’s shop in my home town of Loanhed, although some sources say it was Rocco, his father who owned the shop, the Forte website says it was Alfonso.
There are Italian-Scots, all over Scotland, the Fortes had businesses in Stirling, Kelso, Biggar, Galashiels, Girvan, Broxburn, Jedburgh, Dunbar, Greenock, Dalkeith, Alloa and loads more places besides.
After his father bought a small hotel in Alloa young Charles attended Alloa Academy and then St. Joseph's College, Dumfries, he was then sent to Rome for two years before re-joining his family. He was 18 when he entered the family business, running a restaurant. The business progressed through a series of seaside resorts.
When he was 21, Forte was put in charge of a rundown cafe, the Venetian Lounge in Brighton. Within 12 months he had turned it into a profit-making outlet.
However, he had set his sights on London. With just £400, loans of £2000 from his family and a further £2000 bank loan, he bought a milk bar in Upper Regent Street. A concept he imported from America, it was a place where young people could socialise while lingering over non-alcoholic drinks and listening to the latest records.
The Strand Milk Bar Ltd. milk bar was the stepping stone Forte needed. In later years the café became the Four Seasons Restaurant and it was one site he would never sell.
By the time war broke out in 1939, Forte owned nine establishments in the centre of the capital and was known as Mr Piccadilly. He was interned on the Isle of Man, but after three months he was released to become an adviser to the Ministry of Food.
After the war he bought top London restaurants and hotels such as the Cafe Royal and Waldorf. In 1955 his company was awarded the first catering concession at Heathrow Airport. When the UK's first motorway opened in 1959, he began building a chain of 23 roadside catering areas.
His empire eventually had more than 800 hotels, in cities such as Paris, Geneva, Madrid and London, and a similar number of food outlets. In Britain alone he employed about 70,000 people.
When knighted in 1970 Lord Forte, who was five feet four inches in height, dubbed himself "the shortest knight of the year". He was also a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Italian Republic and was presented with a Papal Medal by Pope Pius XII. He received a medal from the French for what his firm had done at its Paris hotels, the George V, the Plaza Athenee and Tremoille, and the Spanish gave him a medal for his work at the Ritz in Madrid. In 1992, aged 83, he gave up the company to his son Rocco, who had succeeded him as chief executive in 1983.Forte ascribed his success to hard work and healthy living. He said work should be serious but fun, and satisfaction rather than profit was his main motivation.
Charles Forte passed away on February 28th, 2007 aged 98, he had already passed full control to his son Rocco in 1993, but soon the plc was faced with a hostile takeover bid from Granada. Ultimately, Granada succeeded with a £3.9 billion tender offer in January 1996, which left the family with about £350 million in cash, not bad for starting in a wee shop in a Scottish toon.
Rocco immediately went back into the hotel business and now has 14 hotels located in European cities, as well as beach resorts in Sicily and Apulia, and recent openings in Saudi Arabia and China. The most famous of his hotels in Scotland is The Balmoral at number one Princes Street Edinburgh.
Pics of of some of the Forte businesses can be found here https://www.fortefamilyhistory.com/Gallery/In_Business/index.html
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