Long-running Villa D’oro, which opened its new Fairy Meadow cafe in November, has been an example of continual adaption in a bid to cater to changing times and needs.
Owner Claude Guido has been well known for doing events like weddings, graduations and balls with Italian-style food at the Flinders Street Function Centre in Wollongong.
“We had that for 23 years and then COVID hit in 2020 and that put a total grind to our business,” Claude said.
“We lost well over $1 million worth of work during that particular year.”
Naturally, Claude was concerned for the future of the business, so shifted to selling meals people could pick up and eat at home.
“We decided to sell some pasta to make ends meet for a little bit of time and that took off and here we are today,” he said.
“Out of COVID, a new business was born.”
He bought Villa D’oro in 2001 and at the end of last year received the news the Flinders Street Function Centre would be redeveloped.
“We had to think ‘What are we going to do?’ and I was umming and ahhing as to whether I still wanted to do functions or if I’d had enough of functions,” he said.
“Then, out of the blue, this shop became a thought,” he said of the new Fairy Meadow location.
“We thought well, we’ve got six to eight months to kill, so we went to the Croatian Centre at Figtree.
“We kept doing our takeaways and our catering business out of there. That was handy, and they were very good to us.”
The move and creation of a cafe in Fairy Meadow now brings Claude back to where it all began for him.
Claude did his apprenticeship at The Fraternity Club in the 1970s, before managing Portofino in its heyday.
However, the end of the pandemic and a new location haven’t ended the desire for its at-home menu of lasagne, cannelloni, veal and chicken.
“We were probably fortunate that we’ve got a loyal clientele base and just kept coming – and still do,” he said.
“That’s a good 60 per cent of our business.”
However, with the new location comes more adaption as they transition into a cafe.
“I kept looking around this area because I thought what we wanted to create here was that someone would come in and order a fresh plate of pasta, we’d put it in a takeaway container and they could go home and eat it or sit outside and eat it,” Claude said.
“There’s not many places that do that sort of thing – you just walk in and order a plate of pasta or prawns.
“Then the idea of the panini was born as well and we’re doing a fairly good trade of that. It’s actually surprised me.”
During its heyday, Flinders Street Function Centre held a lot of weddings, corporate events and social events, but didn’t do much outside catering.
“Not that there wasn’t a need for it, but we didn’t probably promote that area, whereas we promote it now because it’s a large part of our business,” he said.
He said Italian dishes were dropped off at people’s houses, surf clubs and halls for their self-hosted events.
While some of the catering is tailored to weddings and corporate events – events they’re well familiar with – they’re most popular among family events at home.
“At this time of year it’s a lot of Christmas parties but most of our catering we do week in week out, it’s just first birthdays, could be someone’s 80th – most of it is at home.
“I think catering and our pasta is what we’re renowned for, but the cafe is an add-on that is holding its own now.”
Villa D’oro is located at 12-16 Princes Hwy, Fairy Meadow.