THE son of John and Liliana Conti, who ran one of Newport’s most popular pubs and family restaurants, has paid tribute to two “very sociable and happy people” whose warmth rubbed off on their customers.

Mr Conti died, aged 93, at Pentwyn House nursing home on September 17. Mrs Conti died, aged 85, in Italy on September 22.

Together they ran the family restaurant, Conti’s Restaurant and Basshouse, for decades.

The establishment, originally known as the Empire Cafe, with the Empire Dairy delicatessen next door, was opened by Mr Conti’s father, Giovanni, in the 1930s.

The young John Conti served with the Royal Army Medical Corps in the latter years of the Second World War, before returning to Newport and helping his parents run the business.

In the early 1950s, he met Liliana in Bardi, Italy, and brought her back to Wales after they married in 1953.

The couple helped run the popular restaurant on Newport’s Llanarth Street, where their son, Mario, remembers his mother’s talent at developing the menu.

“She really had a gift for cuisine,” he said. “She could analyse other people’s dishes and then replicate and improve upon them.”

He also remembers growing up and seeing how popular his father was in the local community.

“I remember fondly walking down the street with my father and people stopping to talk to him. He was very polite and very sociable,” he said.

In 1976, the family turned the building’s downstairs into a pub, which quickly became one of the most popular in town – selling an average of 900 pints a day.

The restaurant quickly built up a reputation as a safe and welcoming place where young women could visit without feeling intimidated and older customers happily spent the whole day.

The Contis also kept on their restaurant waitresses, meaning quick bar service, and refused to water down their beer – a common practice in the 1970s – earning them a solid reputation among pub-goers.

Conti’s closed in 1986, in what Mr Conti called “a nostalgic decision” that allowed his parents to retire comfortably.

A requiem mass for Mr and Mrs Conti will take place on Friday, October 12, at St David’s RC Church on Cardiff Road, Newport, at 10am, followed by interment at St Woolos Cemetery, at 11.30am.