Meet the Surf Coast Locals: Restaurateur Cate Wignall
How lucky are we on Victoria’s Surf Coast to have a range of amazing restaurants and cafes to choose from?
As a long time resident, I’m over the moon that the Torquay food scene now rivals other Victorian regional towns such as Daylesford, Kyneton and the Mornington Peninsula for casual beachside eateries, cafes and upscale restaurants.
Cate Wignall and Craig McShane have made a huge splash with locals and tourists alike with their three beautifully designed venues, The Stoop, Pearl and Miami. This husband and wife team have worked hard over the past four years to ensure that all three of their restaurants have different offerings and personalities.
I interviewed Cate to get the couple’s backstory on how and why they choose the Surf Coast for their culinary adventures and to tell them how glad I am that they did!
Cate, when did you and Craig move down to the Surf Coast?
Craig and I moved down to the Surf Coast from Melbourne four years ago. However, we’re both originally from Adelaide, where Craig did his chef’s apprenticeship and I worked the front of house. We’ve been together for just over 20 years and we were lucky our jobs could take us places, so we also took the opportunity to live and work on Hayman Island and in Europe for many years before moving to Melbourne.
Were you always in hospitality during that time?
My family ran pubs in Adelaide, so it’s in my blood. In Melbourne, I worked at Movida, and Craig took over a little pub called the Gem Bar in Collingwood. Then we bought a share in a pub called the Aviary Hotel in Abbotsford with some business partners and ran it for four years.
What prompted the move down to the Surf Coast?
We’d always come to the Surf Coast for our holidays. We’d hire a house with friends and bring the dogs down and just enjoy the area. Then in 2016, we drove home to Adelaide for Christmas. On the drive back along the Great Ocean Road, we stopped in Torquay and hung out on the beach. We had an epiphany that this was it, this is the place we wanted to live and open a business. By late February, we’d moved everything down, had a house and bought The Stoop.
What did you love about The Stoop?
When we walked in and first saw it, we knew immediately what we’d do with it. It was a beautiful set up with a great outdoor area. It felt as if it was something that we could put our mark on. We wanted to make it accommodating to everyone. So you can come in with the kids and have a burger in the beer garden, or you can come and celebrate with a bottle of French champagne and a beautiful French dish. Everyone’s catered for.
The Pearl has also quickly established itself as a local’s favourite. What inspired you to open it?
Pearl is a little pasta bar, which we set up 18 months ago. We’d spent a lot of time in Italy on our travels. Pasta is Craig’s favourite dish to cook at home. He loves to make fresh pasta for us so we decided to export the concept to Pearl. It’s really simple and delicious. We have five fresh pasta dishes on the menu and the main menu changes daily. It keeps it interesting for our regulars.
Just researching the market?
Then, finally, you opened your third venture, Miami, in Torquay, just before the lockdown?
Miami features a tapas-style menu. Our head chef is from Argentina, so he’s brought some South American flavours. It’s a fun and funky place on the main street of town. It has more of a party atmosphere than our other restaurants. We opened Miami just ten weeks before we were locked down due to COVID-19 so it was a little bit of a struggle but the community was amazing.
It was great to see the level of support local business owners got from the community during COVID-19, wasn’t it?
Absolutely. We’ve been involved with the Surf Club here, running the Kiosk on the beach and were part of the summer nights Beach Kitchen program last summer. Once the lockdown was finished, it was brilliant to see customers come in who we had not seen in ages. They told us they’d been ordering home deliveries. We appreciated every order. Being back in the restaurants has been so much fun. Seeing familiar faces and just having the buzz, the energy and the positive attitude back in there again is wonderful.
One thing that always delights me is your great wine selection at your restaurants.
Thanks! We have different wine lists for all three of the venues. The Stoop focuses on mostly Australian wine. We source a lot of Victorian and South Australian wine and a couple of wines from Western Australia. Pearl has an all-Italian wine list, while Miami features an extensive selection of wines, local craft beers and cocktails.
Running three restaurants must keep you busy, what else do you enjoy about living on the Surf Coast?
We’ve got two beautiful Kelpie-cross dogs that keep us busy. We start most days with a walk on the beach with them. Craig plays a lot of golf when he gets the time and I love to just potter around. I love living here and could never go back to live in the city. We love the closeness of the community and how people look out for each other. It is a very inclusive and nice community to live in. We also love enjoying the restaurant scene. We love to eat out, and there are wonderful restaurants opening all the time. It’s great to be part of it.
Happy to have you! Thanks for the chat, Cate.