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Page last updated at 10:10 GMT, Thursday, 4 June 2009 11:10 UK

Fry-ups and dressings down

Bridge Cafe montage

By Lucy Rodgers
BBC News

With The Apprentice final days away, one unsung star of the show is the greasy spoon to which losing teams retreat before returning to the boardroom. What's it like normally?

It has been the scene of many a mud-slinging session and frosty stare between the shameless self-promoters that are the wannabe Apprentices.

The Bridge Cafe, with its prison-cell feel and shabby exterior, is where the ruthless candidates are regularly dispatched to when they have failed to give their oft-pledged "110%". Few Apprentices, it must be said, seem to indulge in a fry-up before an infamous Sir Alan Sugar grilling.

Bridge Cafe
Unglamorous, but a local favourite...

A trip to the cafe, located close to an industrial estate and adorned with posters of scantily-clad women holding pies, represents the BBC One show's punishment - the antithesis of the glamorous, high-cost rewards offered to the winning team.

However, contrary to its booby-prize status on screen, in the real world of Acton, west London, this self-professed "transport caff" does a swift trade and is regarded by locals as a rare gem.

Its customers - mainly made up of labourers, taxi drivers and skip hauliers, but also numbering members of Wasps rugby team and the odd media type - drop in daily to sample the unchanging menu of fry-ups, bacon butties and pies, all served with an obligatory strong mug of tea by local characters Gerry and Frank Marcangelo.

'Down to earth'

The brothers, who come from a catering dynasty, have been offering workers in this neighbourhood traditional sustenance for almost five decades and have come to know their customers extremely well.

They address most by first name as they enter, and have learned exactly what their diners are looking for during a breakfast or lunch pit stop.

Gerry and Frank Marcangelo
Gerry and Frank Marcangelo "don't know what all the fuss is about"

"They are down-to-earth working men - and what the working man wanted to eat 50 years ago, they still eat today," argues 65-year-old Gerry. "People are not interested in us changing.

"We tried different things over the years, such as salads and healthy things, but we have always gone back to do what we do best."

Gerry gestures towards a posh coffee machine standing redundant in the corner.

"They don't want it," he says. Tea is the brew of choice here.

But for anyone who spends any time in the cafe - with its classic tiled walls and bottles of brown sauce and ketchup - it becomes clear regulars are not just attracted by the simple, honest grub. The Marcangelo brothers also provide customers with something they can't buy - banter.

"They come for disagreement really," says Gerry.

"They argue about anything," Frank, 62, butts in, "Pick a subject - football, rugby..."

The brothers also describe how they have lent a friendly ear to many a troubled diner over the years. And when asked if they have also been entrusted with a few secrets, Gerry gives a slow but knowing nod.

"Oh yes," he smiles, although there's no hint of either lending a shoulder to cry on for any of the worried Apprentices.

'Friendly atmosphere'

And the Bridge Cafe's customers are clearly a loyal bunch.

Desmond Benjamin, 44, has been coming for 20 years.

"I used to work round here and come in for the friendly atmosphere," he says, adding that he also enjoys the simple food and the fact he can bring in his baby.

s Kate Walsh and Debra Barr in the Bridge Cafe
The cafe sees many heated discussions on the BBC One show

The Bridge Cafe might only have come to national prominence through its recent primetime TV exposure, but there's nothing novel about the Marcangelos' commitment. Their Italian grandfather came to Britain in the early 1900s and ran a number of cafes in London, starting out with a small stall in Acton. The brothers' 91-year-old mother and late father were also involved in the trade.

"Our father was a very good cook - a proper chef. His apple pie was legendary," explains Frank.

So how do they feel about the cafe's new-found fame? As the modest brothers go about their work, they admit the extra attention brought by The Apprentice has not been entirely to their liking.

Z Cars

It seems they got involved mainly out of politeness as the show's boardroom scenes are filmed nearby.

"They just asked us. A lot of people come in from the studio and we don't want to upset them," says Frank, who also reveals the cafe featured in the BBC's 1960s police drama Z Cars.

Sauce bottles
Would Sir Alan approve?

However, while their business is now attracting a whole new set of customers - Apprentice fans looking for a souvenir picture - the brothers betray not a hint of the entrepreneurial spirit championed by the show.

Exhibiting an attitude that would surely drive Sir Alan to despair, Gerry and Frank are not remotely interested in cashing in.

They have dismissed family suggestions of selling mugs featuring Sir Alan's catchphrase "You're fired" and are bemused by calls from members of the media asking about the cafe.

"It's all getting a bit much - there's nothing to see," argues Gerry. Both brothers agree they "don't know what all the fuss is about".

And, sadly, despite its fame, the Bridge Cafe appears to face an uncertain future. Gerry suffered a heart attack last year and is planning his retirement, and the brothers say none of their children is likely to take the business on.

Yet, one thing is for sure. The Marcangelos will continue to the end with their tried-and-tested, no-nonsense approach to trade, which aims to give the ordinary man on the street exactly what he wants.

Of that, at least, surely the tough-talking Sir Alan, who has described his own target market as the "truck driver and his wife" and business as "all about the punters", would begrudgingly approve.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

What a shame that these cafes are slowly disappearing to be replaced by coffee shops that wouldn't dream of selling bacon sandwiches!!As a Londoner born and bred they are, to me, one of the few places left that remind me of how London used to be and not a cappuccino in sight.
Julie Williams, london

If I was one of their kids or part of their family I'd gladly keep the business running!
Helen, York

Clearly the Marcangelos are tradesmen, interesting in doing a good job rather than businessmen interesting in maximising profit. I know who I'd rather buy a fry-up from.
Mark, Guildford

Years ago, all cafes were like this one. Whenever I come across similar, I breath a sigh of relief. A good mug of tea and artery clogging fry ups with REAL chips. I am sick of these 'trendy' easting establishments. The only choice you get now are the MacDonalds type places or some sandwich bar. We had a great transport type cafe here once but now it's an estate agents. These cafes should stay for as long as possible.
Janet Hooper, Isle of Wight

I can imagine that it could be annoying for regulars when somewhere that does steady trade for 50 years suddenly becomes somewhat pretentiously known as "a local gem" and "hearty and authentic" by people who see it on TV.
Karl Chads, London

Thanks for posting this, interesting profile. Why change a working formula, I'm sure the place will be snapped up as people try to retain the traditional "greasy".
Mick Farrell, Wallisellen, Switzerland

This place sounds great. A good honest business, selling people what they want. Much better than the hype and fluff of the TV show. Hmm, now I want a bacon butty.
PM, London, UK

I love this place. I have been eating here for over 20 years and my favourite is the Gerry special (a pie and a packet of socks). He knows! Super place guys and I'm only young - keep it open for ever
Lee Richardson, Broxbourne

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