Tucked away in the gorgeous seaside town of Robe is a gem of a restaurant called Gather Food and Wine. Operating in an old cottage that used to be a bookstore, the restaurant is as cute as a button and offers a feast for the senses with a menu to die for.
Run by husband and wife team Tom and Sarah Tilbury, this seaside restaurant focuses on sourcing the best produce the local area has to offer, and sustainable sourcing and gathering of food. We sat down with Tom, Owner and Head Chef to talk about hospitality and owning his own venue.
The dream for Tom has always been to open his own place in a regional setting. “We are always looking to improve the restaurant and make things better” which is all part of the fun of achieving their dreams of operating their own venue.
Tom’s wife Sarah grew up in Beachport (near Robe), so when they decided to settle down and start a family, Robe seemed like the perfect destination to set up shop. Initially, they had to chase the current location of the venue to secure it.
They have set the bar high with a unique offering and high-quality produce which has seen them become a much-loved part of the Robe community.
The restaurant is probably his greatest career achievement, states Tom.
Growing up in McLaren Vale he got into hospitality after a lunch with his family at the Botanic Garden restaurants in Adelaide. He was intrigued by how the restaurant was run and the food that was served to them. From that day he knew he wanted to be in hospitality. He started out behind the bar at 18, being a bit shy, and he wasn’t super “out there”. Tom found front of house challenging early in his career, and sensing this, the owner moved him to the kitchen which is where he stayed.
Tom found his ‘comfort space’ in the kitchen, but over time has developed a love of being on the floor as well. He now feels quite comfortable out in the restaurant talking to customers, and is hoping this summer he can get out in the restaurant a little bit more.
Tom said the public perception of food and having more educated diners is a huge change in the industry since he first started. The diner’s expectation has changed and he believes it is a great thing for the industry.
Gaining trust in a country town is a priority for Tom and his team at Gather Food and Wine.
“Internet reviews can be one of the biggest challenges for modern hospitality businesses, and of course staffing can be quite a challenge when you work in a seasonal location” Tom says.
Robe, like a lot of summer hot spots is generally busy during the summer time, school holidays, and long weekends. Local businesses need to make their profits in 3 – 4 months of the year.
Running a seasonal and regional restaurant is very different in the way they flex up and down with their staffing, Tom says. Staffing is always an ongoing development area for Gather Food and Wine, much like most other restaurants they need to have a continual focus on good staffing and training. Regional restaurants really need to be on their game when it comes to staffing. “Training, and putting the time into getting good staff is key” Tom says.
Anyone starting out in the industry needs to enjoy learning and really listen to the people around you, taking in as much information as possible. Always step outside of your comfort zone.
‘Be hospitable, care what goes into the food, and care what happens at the table’ is Tom’s advice for a venue to stay at the top of the game. It really does require focus on the core basics of Hospitality; being hospitable to your guests.
Peter and Jo Reschke from d’Arenberg restaurant are some of the key mentors and people Tom looks up to in the industry. “They really mentored me during my apprenticeship. They work really well together, and really look after the people they work with, and that is something great to always aspire too”
Gather Food and wine have some exciting things coming up in the future which are top secret for now, but the main focus of the restaurant into the future is to offer a fresh, seasonal menu that wows the senses.
They source much of their produce locally with all the protein coming farm-direct. They source their beef from Sarah’s family station, and ducks from a farmer at Meningie (who exclusively supplies Gather Food and Wine, and Penfold’s Magill Estate restaurant with those ducks), Veal from Lucindale, and of course only of the best crayfish from Robe.
They aim to source high quality produce, and work with the environment instead of against when it comes to what they put on the plate.
Gather Food and Wine is well worth a visit when you are next in Robe, or even build your visit around it. You will be delighted you did. Open Wednesday to Saturday for dinner. Then 7 days a week for dinner from the 26th of December till the end of January.