His uncle James, then a promising medical student, went off to buy a piece of fish in 1947 and returned as the owner of a two room fish shop in Glasthule, Co. Dublin.
ll these years later the name is still on the door and the fish shop has grown into a famous food center both at home and abroad.
Now it’s set to expand further up the road, opening an exquisitely appointed restaurant and wine bar with the Caviston name above the door in the coming weeks.
James’ nephew Peter, who now runs the business with his two sons, Mark and David, has carried on the culinary traditions of his uncle and father, John. But beyond that, he added to his mystique with his social eccentricities and love of a good time.
“Maura (his wife) calls me ‘half,’ because when she asks me when I’m coming home, I say ‘half,'” he says. “I was here at the restaurant in Glasthule one Friday and Trevor Brennan (the Irish rugby international) was signing his book. The wine flowed freely and when she called me that evening to ask when I would be home for dinner, I had to tell her that I was sitting on a boulevard in Paris… I didn’t get home until Sunday. “
Another Sunday morning, he received a call from Maurice Manning, then a senator, to ask if the restaurant was open. ‘Cavo’, as close friends call him, said no. But pressed further, he agreed to open up. A limousine duly pulled up and US Senator Ted Kennedy and a group of friends got out.
“I said to him, ‘Welcome to Glasthule, what’s your poison?’ He replied, ‘I like a man like you, a triple Bloody Mary.’ That night he was riding my old messenger bike down the street with his sister Jean Kennedy Smith at the crossbar.”
We’re seated at the prime table in his much-anticipated restaurant, looking out over Dublin Bay, and the stories keep flowing.
“You’ll never get bored, there’s always something to do and someone to talk to. Every customer that walks through the door is just as important as the next one,” he says. “It’s exciting and fun…I’d love to do it again.”
When the restaurant opens, the famous shop will expand into the vacated space with its range of fruit and vegetables, meat and fish. “I don’t want to change the character of the store, I don’t want it to be in a straight line, so we want to increase the capacity, but with a lot of love,” he says.
Peter Caviston left school at 16 and worked as an errand boy for Mr Smyth next door at No. 58, a building Peter bought in 1989. One of his teachers said, “You’ll never be anything but an errand boy,” so years later, when he was running one of Dublin’s most successful grocery stores, he rode the courier bike in shorts to a class reunion at Killiney Castle and asked the teacher: “Do you remember me?”
He learned his trade from filleting behind the counter, gutting chickens and game, and running errands, and proudly calls himself a “fishmonger”. His love of fine dining, he says, came after his first visit to John Clarke & Sons on Dublin’s Wellington Quay.
“It was like an Aladdin cave with all these cheeses and high quality produce. Nobody else had it at the time,” he says, revealing that the owner, Seán, is the father of his friend, celebrity chef Derry Clarke.
“It’s not a job; I like it too much,” he says.
Pierce Brosnan’s mother, May, once told him to write a memoir, “but I couldn’t fit half the stories into it,” he adds. After having lunch, he took the Hollywood actor and his mother to Fitzgerald’s Pub in Sandycove and got him singing Mamma Mia while the Hon Garech Browne distributed glasses of champagne.
Roger Moore came three times and Peter knew he was “well” when he brought his chauffeur in for lunch. He remembers actress Sheila Richards as one of the first to sit outside, which is now commonplace post-Covid.
But it wasn’t always easy, especially when his father paid £300 for the first Liffey salmon of the season, or came home one day in a large van whose doors couldn’t be closed because of the two huge tuna in it, and said to Petrus : “Sell them.”
“Until then, I had only seen tuna in cans,” he says.
But he called the Japanese ambassador, who appeared with his chef and carried a special sword to cut off a huge chunk of tuna for the embassy. Hordes of Japanese came to the store to buy up the rest, and he sold the other giant fish to the Japanese Asahi factory in Killala, Co. Mayo, making money — and the front pages of newspapers — two days in a row.
“It wasn’t a bad day at work,” he says wistfully. “You have to think fast”
His son Mark smiles – the habit of buying exotic groceries has carried through to the third generation. He bought a £2,000 white truffle and a 100 year old bottle of balsamic vinegar for €700 and still remembers their exquisite taste.
On one of his many Bloomsday forays into the city, Peter Caviston acquired a can of petrol, attached a grill and, with a lit pan, began sautéing kidneys outside Sweny’s Chemist Shop on Lincoln Place, Dublin. “Do you have permission?” asked a passing busybody.
“If you ask, they say no, so my philosophy is to do it before someone tells you to stop,” he replied, serving his interrogator a perfectly grilled mutton kidney.
The fishmonger has transformed his home village of Glasthule, in south County Dublin, into a foodie’s paradise. Whether it’s his food, his enjoyment of singing and music, or just standing outside the store chatting to customers or passers-by, he’s become a unique character, not just in Glasthule but in the far corners too , where gourmets come together. Like the Pied Piper, he sometimes leads a merry band of bon vivants to different corners of Ireland and France in search of good food and wine, but above all lots of fun.
Accompanied by singers and musicians like Simon Morgan and Richie Buckley, he discreetly gets them to strum their instruments so that wherever he is, music and laughter will open the doors of an Irish country pub or an exclusive Bordeaux chateau.
On a visit to the famous Chateau Lynch-Bages, the owner had set out Magnums of his fine wines for Peter and his friends for dinner.
“The bigger the bottles, the better the wine,” he insists, explaining the “special relationship” he and his Glasthule shop have developed over the years with Jean-Charles and his father Jean-Michel Cazes, owners of the historic winery , have built .
That evening Jean-Charles welcomed his Irish guests but said he had to make an early apology as he had a very important business meeting the next day.
At 2 a.m. he was still in the company, enjoying the singing and the celebrations.
“He secretly trained us from about the age of eight,” says Mark. “It’s in our blood.” Peter adds, “Whatever you do, you have to back it with quality,” making a special mention of his daughter Lorraine, who was also in the business.
“What’s the name on the door…Cavistons,” adds Peter, “where we are, you only get there if you care and respect it and care for your customers, otherwise you don’t fool anyone, except oneself.”
He believes the surname came to Ireland when General Humbert landed at Killala in 1798.
They’re the only Cavistons family in the country, so it’s no wonder the patriarch is so unique.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/peter-caviston-a-teacher-told-me-i-would-never-be-anything-but-a-messenger-boy-41997404.html Peter Caviston: “A teacher told me I would never be anything but an errand boy”