This marked the inception of a pioneering company in the catering industry in Malta. We meet 80-year old Alfred, or as he is fondly called “Il-Kuxi”, in his office in Ta’ Xbiex, who recounts the company’s history over three generations.
“My father wasn’t too keen to let me join the company - he wanted me to start working at a bank!” jokes Alfred as he reflects on his start as a sixteen-year-old. Driven by a passion for sales, Alfred was having none of that and he convinced his Dad that the time was perfect for a move in the Tourism sector as the country was gearing for Independence in the Sixties.
Alfred travelled to the UK for his first ‘proper’ sales assignment. He looks back with a fair degree of emotion as he remembers flying to London and booking at the Hotel Olympia. During his stay, he went against his father’s instructions and ordered some chinaware, cutlery, kitchen tools and accessories.
His next trip abroad was to Italy, where he came across a top custom furniture company called IBA (Arredamenti Bergamaschi) and Alfred could now start accepting bigger and more important jobs. His first such contract was agreed in 1969 with the supply of custom-made furnishings for Paul’s Punch Bowl in Paceville. Palazzo Pescatore in St Paul’s Bay followed soon after. Alfred considers the Verdala Hotel to be his ‘breakthrough’ project in 1971, with the supply of all cutlery, chinaware and linen.
In the early seventies, Alfred befriended a number of Maltese businessmen - Alfred Pisani, George Fenech, Raymond Fenech, Zaren Vassallo, Winston Zahra, Michael Zammit Tabona and Joe Gasan – who were all starting their careers in the catering industry. Over the years Continental Purchasing has been entrusted with numerous prestigious projects, including Hilton, Dragonara, Suncrest and much more. Contracts would typically consist of customized buffet and bar counters, reception counters among others. The company also boasts a strong presence in Gozo, with clients including Hotel Ta Cenc, Kempinski, Calypso Hotel, Ta Frenc Complex and Restaurant, Kartell Restaurant and Porto Vecchio Restaurant. Projects handled abroad include the prestigious Hilton Evian-les-Bains in France.
Alfred’s travels brought him in touch with several architects, interior designers and other business contacts. This allowed him to be in a better position to handle bigger bespoke projects. The Continental brand experienced significant growth, but more importantly, Alfred claims that the strength of his company was thanks to a solid reputation based on trust and delivering within pre-agreed deadline timeframes. “We always placed the client first,” claims Alfred proudly. “We go the extra mile to make sure that the requirements presented to us are met to the last detail”. Apart from made to measure furniture, Continental Purchasing today imports a number of other product categories including chinaware, cutlery, glassware, holloware, linen & fabrics and amenities, representing world-renowned brands such as Villeroy and Boch, WMF, Schott Zwiesel, Skopos, Mepra, Bottega del Albergo, De Witte Lietar, Tino Sana and other leading suppliers for the hotel and hospitality industry.
Below are just a few contracts and projects undertaken by the company in recent years:
Chinaware: Catermax, Cater Essence, Corinthia Group, Westin Dragonara Hotel, Radisson Golden Sands, Island Caterers, Radisson Bay Point, Hilton Malta, The Seabank Hotel, Valentina Hotel, Intercontinental Hotel and Preluna Hotel.
Glassware: Radisson Group, Hilton Malta, Westin Dragonara, Valentina Hotel, Corinthia Group and Intercontinental Hotel.
Cutlery: Corinthia Group, Catermax, Hotel Marina Corinthia, Radisson Group, Westin Dragonara, Valentina Hotel, Intercontinental Hotel.
More recently, the company replaced IBA with Merli Arredamenti, also from Italy, as their supplier for custom made furnishings. A family-run business, Merli gave Continental a new level of product and pricing options. Together they have been involved in several projects including Hard Rock Café at the Malta International Airport, Cheeky Monkey Gastro Pub, Malta National Aquarium, Is-Suq tal-Belt, Hilton Malta, Carvv Steakhouse at the Dolmen Hotel, Qawra Palace Hotel, Ramla Bay Resort, Maritim Antonine Hotel & Spa, Salini Resort and Hotel Juliani. In 2019 alone, Continental have been involved in no less than sixteen projects in Malta.
Despite being beyond retirement age, Alfred still goes to the office on a daily basis and gives his input on a number of issues. He explains that around eight years ago he was happy to pass on the baton of lead role to Mark Ciantar, who is now the company’s Chief Executive Officer.
“Mark shares my business vision and work ethos,” claims Alfred. “His passion and drive will help Continental expand its operations and client base – just like we did in the past six decades.” Mark’s connection with the company started when he was actually one of Alfred’s clients. “Joining was an extremely easy decision for me,” Mark tells us. “Continental is backed by an amazing up-market brand line-up and a wealth of experience in the Horeca industry. We pride ourselves in maintaining a top-level service whilst offering competitive pricing will be pivotal for the company’s future success,” concluded the company CEO.