By Katy Savage
As the popular Peppino’s Restaurant on Killington Road closes, a new restaurant is coming to town.
Peppino’s owner Lou Illiano, who opened his authentic Italian restaurant 30 years ago, sold the building in May.
“It was just time for me to get out of the restaurant business,” Illiano said.
Kara Tondorf, a restaurateur from Massachusetts, just started renovations after buying the building for $550,000. She plans to bring her Massachusetts restaurant, Rivershed, to town by October.
While most restaurant owners downsized in the Covid-19 global pandemic, Tondorf did the opposite.
This will be Tondorf ’s fourth restaurant and one of three restaurants she’ll have renovated and opened despite lockdowns and stay at home orders — though that wasn’t necessarily her plan.
Tondorf signed the lease on a restaurant in Scituate, Massachusetts, called Salt Society, a week before the pandemic hit and Tondorf just opened her second Rivershed location in Braintree, Massachusetts, after a year of renovations.
Rivershed, which serves burgers, sandwiches and tacos, with a Southern twist, has its third location in Scituate.
It may sound chaotic, but that’s how Tondorf likes it.
“I got a little bored this winter,” she said. “When I get bored I tend to take on projects.”
The restaurants aren’t Tondorf’s only project.
Tondorf and her wife moved to Killington full time last year so their kids, ages 7 and 9, could attend a smaller school.
The couple had owned a condo in Killington since 2016. They bought a second condo last year and renovated it. After they realized they wanted to live in Killington full time, they sold their condo and bought a house. Tondorf is renovating the new house while renovating the new restaurant.
Tondorf is bringing one of her longtime chefs to Killington,a as well as some of her employees. She said renovations at Peppino’s will be minimal, but one priority is to add an indoor and outdoor stage to host live music.
Tondorf, a songwriter who grew up in Massachusetts, got into the restaurant business after touring the country with her songs and tasting local food where she stayed.
“I’m a big foodie,” she said. “I wanted to put together a concept that blended all of my interests.”
Those interests include good food, a relaxed atmosphere and good music.
Tondorf has used her songwriting connections to bring some of the best country songwriters to her restaurants. She plans to bring those artists to Killington.
Tondorf also wants to bring a songwriter festival to town.
Tondorf organizes an annual festival in Massachusetts, called Rivershed Songwriters Festival, which hosts top songwriters from Nashville who have written for artists like Keith Urban, Kelsea Ballerini, Faith Hill, Chris Young, and others.
“I think it’s going to bring a lot to the community,” Tondorf said.
She said Rivershed will be open before the busy winter season and stay open year-round.
As for Illiano, he’s still trying to decide what’s next.
Illiano has been in the restaurant business since he was 13. He started by prepping food and washing dishes for his father’s Italian restaurant, Little Naples, which had locations in Middlebury, Rutland and Mendon.
Illiano was just 21 when he started Peppino’s.
Illiano was asked to start the restaurant by Killington business owner Jack Giguere, who was looking for a tenant.
“I fell into it,” Illiano said. “The building became available and I took a shot at it back then just to see if it would fly.”
Illiano leased the building at first and then bought it in 1992.
He crafted the menu similar to Little Naples and brought authentic Italian food to Killington. The menu started big.
“It kept getting smaller and kept getting better,” Illiano said.
Like most small business owners, Illiano did it all. He was the chef, the driveway plower, bookkeeper and secretary.
“I loved the hours and I loved the business, I love to eat,” Illiano said.
He learned it all from his parents who lived in Staten Island, New York, after moving from Italy. His father was a hairdresser and his mother helped him before becoming a stay-at-home mom. Illiano and his family moved to the Rutland area in 1976 to be near his grandparents in Rutland.
Illiano’s father didn’t have experience running restaurants, but was inspired after eating out a few times.
“He’s only happy when he cooks,” Illiano said. “He decided he’s better than everybody else.”
How Iliano’s family came up with the menu was simple, he said: “We cooked it, if we liked it, we served it.”
Peppino’s, which was open only in the winter, became a fixture in Killington, known especially for its pork chops.
“We used the best ingredients,” Illiano said. “It’s hard to make a mistake when you use the best ingredients.”
Illiano jokes he wants to win the lottery and spend every day on the lake.
“I will figure out something, I just don’t know,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of aspirations. I don’t think I’ll be getting back into the restaurant.”
Tondorf, meanwhile, is looking forward to being active in Killington, in the town where she said her kids are “thriving.”