Caveau’s next generation: Wollongong's top restaurant sold

After 12 years and the same number of coveted Good Food Guide Chef Hats, Wollongong’s most celebrated restaurant team has exited the region’s dining scene.

Peter and Nicola Sheppard, the husband and wife behind Caveau, have sold up (and closed down their dumpling house MoChi) to take up new opportunities outside the region.

However, they’re adamant the renowned restaurant will not be going anywhere: the new buyers have been at the helm of the Sheppards’ restaurant since late 2015 and plan to continue the tradition of the high-end Keira Street eatery.

Welsh chef Simon Evans, who has worked at Caveau for the past five years, and Wollongong-born Tom Chiumento – who has cooked at Melbourne’s Brae and Dinner by Heston – will open the restaurant as their own on Wednesday.

Excited and nervous, the young chefs said they were confident they could continue with chef Peter Sheppard’s exacting standards and critical success.

“We feel a sense of responsibility to really keep the Caveau values, but we will also have our own style,” Mr Evans said.

12 years of success: Caveau founders Peter and Nicola Sheppard with the team (including its new owners) which delivered the 12th hat in 2016. Picture: Sylvia Liber.

12 years of success: Caveau founders Peter and Nicola Sheppard with the team (including its new owners) which delivered the 12th hat in 2016. Picture: Sylvia Liber.

“We want to look at the produce of the Wollongong region, which has really started to boom in the past three or four years with small producers,” Mr Chiumento said.

“We want to show them off and be on the forefront of showing people that Wollongong really is a food region.”

Talk of buying the restaurant began late last year, after Mr Chiumento had returned from a stint in Melbourne and about a year after the young pair had taken the reins (and gained a chef hat of their own) at Caveau while the Sheppards shifted focus to their Asian eatery, MoChi.

“I actually came in one morning and asked Nicola if we could do a dinner, so just us boys and the kitchen team without having Peter involved,” Mr Chiumento said.

“She said ‘yep’ without hesitation and then her next sentence was ‘Actually we were wondering if you and Simon would be interested to buy Caveau’.”

“I called Simon who said he’d just booked flights home to Wales for Christmas.”

“That was an expensive morning!” Mr Evans joked. “But it was a no brainer, we’d already talked about opening our own restaurant in Wollongong and then the perfect restaurant landed on our lap.”

Ms Sheppard said the decision to sell their successful venture had been sparked by her husband’s new job at Campbelltown’s Catholic Club.

“Peter started doing some consultancy work last year and opened a restaurant designed on the MoChi concept in the Catholic Club, and he was offered a full time position as their director of culinary development for all their venues,” she said.

She said moving on was “emotional” as the Wollongong restaurant had been “our life” for nearly 13 years.

“It was never just a job so it’s a little bit emotional, but I’m also quite excited to see what Tom and Simon do with it,” she said.

“And I suppose I’m also ready to let someone else do the worrying for a bit! I think I’m due some long-service leave and we’re pretty excited about this next stage.”