Jamie Shepley and Luke Kerlin are the duo quietly taking over Wagga’s cafe and fine dining scene.
The pair behind the popular eatery Mr. Lawrence has just opened an extension of the café, but they haven’t stopped there.
HIDE Steak & Bar, their debut restaurant, opened on 10 February.
Mr Kerlin explained that HIDE aims to showcase the region’s best meat, seafood and drinks in a reimagined setting.
“It’s essentially an elevated level of the steak and bar,” he explained.
“The hotel restaurant used to be a massive thing, back in the 80s and 90s; it used to be the go-to, if you like. We’re trying to bring that back.”
Perched on the corner of Edward St and Lake Albert Rd at the International Hotel, HIDE’s marble-clad bar overlooks a low-lit interior that can seat 40 guests. Outside, another 20 guests can be seated on the deck.
“The location is really good, but we are along the highway, so at night you get the traffic,” Mr Kerlin said.
“It’s really nice out there, though – I actually prefer it sometimes. People like to be inside; it’s more intimate, but outside has a nice city feel.”
Mr Kerlin said having a built-in clientele is an exciting prospect.
“For a fine dining restaurant, we’d want about 40 to 50 people in the door every night. In this hotel scenario, we get 20 of those people just walk down the stairs automatically,” he said.
After stepping back from their roles at Roundabout Restaurant (now The Charles Boutique Hotel & Dining) the chefs opened their flagship, Mr. Lawrence, in October of 2021.
The self-described mixture of ‘café, restaurant and bar’ is tucked away at the end of Fitzmaurice Street, in the space previously occupied by the now-defunct Knight’s Butchery, which closed in 2019.
Named after the building’s original owners, T. Lawrence & Sons, Mr. Lawrence can seat 50 patrons inside and outside. During the week it offers breakfast and lunch, metamorphosing into a fine dining establishment serving the chefs’ tasting menu on Friday and Saturday nights.
Despite opening amid a post-COVID maelstrom, Mr. Lawrence took off – so well that the business’ first extension quietly opened on Monday (2 May). Stowed away in the depths of Calvary Riverina Hospital, staff, patients and visitors can now enjoy Mr. Lawrence’s take on breakfast and a coffee.
Last year, it was reported that a purpose-built space would be constructed at the exterior of the T. Lawrence & Sons building to house an extension of the restaurant, including a function venue.
Mr Kerlin said he envisioned a two-storey build, overlooking the levee onto the Murrumbidgee River, so patrons could enjoy one of Wagga’s best views.
“The view of river you get from along Fitzmaurice Street is so under-utilised. Despite all these big beautiful old buildings, the (Duke of Kent Hotel) is the only place that has actually taken advantage of that at the moment,” he said.
“We’ve put a planning application in, but I haven’t actually seen plans from the architect yet. We are going to do a build; it just depends on what Council says we’re allowed to build.”
The future looks bright for the pair, who look forward to presenting some of the Riverina’s best local produce to Wagga locals, a practice they believe has also been neglected.
“Wagga is a bit of a wasteland in that respect,” he said.
“We have come across so many local suppliers putting out lovely stuff and you never see it. It didn’t make any sense to us.”
Mr Shepley and Mr Kerlin have worked together for many years behind many different well-established names in the region. Their partnership began at Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory nearly a decade ago.
“We just jumped in really; we still have plenty of teething issues. But we felt we had to take that risk because we just want to do our own thing, make our own decisions and be more forward-thinking,” Mr Kerlin said.
HIDE Steak & Bar is open Monday to Saturday from 6:30 am to 10 am and 4 pm to 11 pm and on Sundays from 6:30 am to 11 am.