Services set for Helen London, restaurant supplier

Helen J. London, 78, founder of Previn Inc., a supply house that serves the restaurant community, died Wednesday, Sept. 6, of sepsis, said her son, Jay Carlson.

Mrs. London was an inveterate home cook in Center City in the early 1970s at the dawn of Philadelphia’s restaurant renaissance when she opened Le Cook Nook, a cooking-supply retailer, at 256 S. 20th St.

By 1986, she wanted to steer the business away from serving the public and toward chefs and restaurants. She went to France and spent six months working in a kitchen-supply house before returning to open Previn, around the corner. The Previn name bears the first initials of three men she had known, followed by “vin” for “wine,” said her son, who later joined her in the business.

“I realized that professional chefs, especially European-trained chefs, had needs that weren’t being filled by traditional restaurant-supply houses,” she said in 1987. “Fine French porcelain, cake rings, professional-quality baking molds, chef’s jackets. I tried to do that out of my retail store, but it was impossible. Chefs would come in to browse and suddenly clean out all my tartlet molds, and I wouldn’t have any left for regular customers. Someone might look in our catalog and say, ‘That’s a nice cookie cutter for Christmas.’ Then she’s shocked to discover that it costs $14. Well, it’s very high-quality, very heavy-gauge metal. It’s made to be used thousands and thousands of times, and it’s something a home cook just doesn’t need.”

Previn’s customers are still a who’s who of the restaurant scene.

Mrs. London grew up in Chicago, the daughter of Persian immigrants. She was an alumna of Northwestern University.

Besides her son and daughter-in-law, Jodie, she is survived by a granddaughter, Ava.

A funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, at Trinity Memorial Church, 2212 Spruce St.