Having only ever felt “truly at home” on the Aeolian island of Stromboli, Cavallaro was raised on the traditions of authentic Italian cuisine.
Today, he carries on the legacy of his parents, who founded the historic T. Cavallaro & Sons pasticceria in Footscray, which has been manufacturing pastries in the Sicilian tradition for over 65 years.
His father, Tommaso Cavallaro, migrated to Australia from the island of Lipari in 1949, in a bid to build a brighter future for his family in the wake of World War II.
Hailing from Stromboli, his wife Sarina joined Tommaso two years later, arriving in Melbourne with four children in tow: Carmelo, Lina, Giuseppe and Milena.
Cavallaro was born in Melbourne once the family had settled in their new home.
“The art of making pastries goes back generations in my family,” Cavallaro says.
“My father learnt from my grandfather who, in turn, had learnt the trade from his father.
“My father ran a successful pastry shop in Lipari but he was forced to close with the outbreak of World War II.
“Flour, sugar and eggs were nowhere to be found; in the beginning, he went to buy them secretly at night.”
Tommaso’s innate passion for pastries not only turned into his profession but also led him to his future wife.
“My father prepared the wedding cake for my aunt’s wedding, where he met my mother,” Cavallaro says.
Upon his arrival in Melbourne, Tommaso immediately realised the absence of his craft and decided to act on the “deep sense of nostalgia” felt by the thousands of Italian migrants who had already settled in Victoria.
Tommaso made it his mission to bring the Sicilian pastry tradition to Melbourne.
The young migrant spent several years working in the shop of an Australian couple to establish himself.
“The owners of the shop didn’t speak Italian and my father didn’t know one word of English, but they were very fond of each other,” Cavallaro says.
“After all, food has no language.”
In 1956, Tommaso’s moment arrived and he opened the doors to T. Cavallaro & Sons in Footscray, just a month after the Melbourne Olympics took place.
“My family’s memories are inextricably linked to the shop,” Cavallaro says.
“We were there together constantly: we all ate and worked together and we had our regular appointment at the La Scala Cinema in Footscray every Saturday.
“There was a large Italian community in Footscray at the time and we established a loyal clientele.
“It’s nice to see that today the grandchildren of those migrants continue to honour tradition and buy sweets from our pastry shop.”
Tony Cavallaro in the arms of his father Tommaso, watching his older brother Carmelo at work in the pastry shop
Unfortunately, when Cavallaro was just 15 years old, his father passed away.
Determined to honour his father’s legacy and carry on his passion, Cavallaro took over the shop in 1982, when business was booming.
Although he had already embarked on a university degree in architecture, he abandoned his studies without any regrets because he never thought of making pastries as a job, but rather as a “family gift”.
Cavallaro has been greeting customers from behind the counter of the historic Hopkins Street venue for more than 50 years now.
Over the decades, he has witnessed the development of new communities in Footscray following migration waves from Vietnam and Africa.
Cavallaro says he “feels a great affinity” with new migrants because many of them have come to Australia for the same reasons that prompted his parents to leave Italy.
“We’ve been sharing the goodness of Sicilian sweets in Melbourne for more than 65 years and we’ve learnt that, as in any other business, it’s necessary to adapt to changing times,” he adds.
“Once the cannoli were fried in suet, but today we use oil; it’s the small details that make the difference.
“Meanwhile, for the traditional almond paste and amaretti biscuits, we continue to respect the same recipes passed on by my paternal grandfather.”
Left to right: Sera, Carmelo, Tony and Rosa Cavallaro
While his older brother Carmelo recently decided to retire, Cavallaro and his wife Rosa hope that their children Roberto and Andrea will soon be able to oversee the management of the renowned pasticceria.
“I imagine that I’ll retire in five years, even if I still feel up to the task,” Cavallaro concludes with a smile.
“But the future starts today, not tomorrow!”