Caffe Cordina is Malta’s most iconic café, located in the heart of Valletta. Spanning generations, the Caffe’s history is as rich as its desserts – but what lies behind Family Cordina’s success and legacy?
Caffe Cordina is a historic landmark on a pedestrianised part of Republic Street, Valletta’s main thoroughfare. Its roots, though, lie in Cospicua, opposite Valletta on the Grand Harbour’s other side. This is where John Cordina’s great-great-grandparents, originally from San Gimignano in Italy, set up shop in 1837.
Back then, the family sold products from their homeland, travelling door-to-door with a horse and cart. The shop was passed down generation after generation until a bomb blast forced it to close during World War II.
Cesare Cordina, John’s father, set his sights on Valletta for a fresh start. He acquired the Caffe’s current premises from The Casino Maltese social club in 1944, and the new location quickly became an integral part of family life. In fact, Cesare was hanging a painting by famed artist Giuseppe Calì in the Caffe when he found out that his son, John, had been born.
When Caffe Cordina opened in Valletta, Cesare and his brother Ottone ran the show. They had just one employee, Frans Cutajar, who was only 15 at the time and went on to work with the Cordinas until he retired. While Ottone left the business after some time, Caffe Cordina continued to go from strength to strength under Cesare’s watchful eye.
“My father travelled to Italy a lot because that’s where he got his inspiration. He’d return with brilliant ideas, which he implemented locally. For instance, he launched tavola calda on the island, so we could serve people hot, pre-prepared homemade food quickly. It went down a treat!” – Mr John Cordina
Caffe Cordina also became the first Maltese café to introduce an espresso machine – a classic Gaggia – in the early 1950s. The Caffe soon developed an unparalleled reputation as the place to be for important members of society.
Over the decades, the Cordinas evolved their products and services with the changing times. And as their business developed, so did their premises.
“Caffe Cordina expanded several times. In 1966, we acquired the British Pharmacy next door, which became a large seating area. Then, in 1972, my father took over the Melic Tobacco Shop, next to the original building, and developed it into more dining space. Once the Caffe’s interior was complete, we looked to the outdoors because we wanted our clients to enjoy al fresco dining. So, we transformed the Caffe into a popular outdoor-dining spot. Today, we have 80 tables outside and can accommodate large groups. Watching Caffe Cordina grow over the years has been extremely exciting.” – Mr John Cordina.
Then, in the late 1960s, Cesare transformed Caffe Cordina’s business model by adding an underground level to create an in-house factory. All operations were centralised, and the creation of Caffe Cordina’s products was brought in-house.
The subterranean factory is still used today to bake the Caffe’s popular cakes and treats. It is also where chefs prepare food for the catering arm of the business, as well as the Caffe’s traditional staples, including Qagħaq tal-Għasel (Maltese honey rings), Ħelwa tat-Tork (a local crumbly, nutty dessert) and Imqaret (date-filled pastries), which are all packaged and sold at the Caffe itself.
When Cesare passed away in 1986, John took over the business. Since then, the company has grown from just under 50 employees to over 130. John has continued his father’s legacy by focusing on innovation, and Caffe Cordina continues to adapt to its ever-growing and changing customer base.
“We’ve expanded our catering service and have started organising our own events. For instance, our summertime jazz evenings in the square – or ‘pjazza’ – have become immensely popular. We have also invested in the pjazza’s restoration and installed state-of-the-art umbrellas that supply both cool and warm air, music and wi-fi to our guests. We are – and will always remain – focused on making sure our guests enjoy their time with us.” – Mr John Cordina.
Today, Caffe Cordina is known as one of the best cafés in Europe – and with good reason. Over 180 years of history have transformed the family business. Yet, the Cordinas remain true to their humble roots and original mission: to welcome local and international guests with top-quality service and exceptional products.