State of grace
An enthusiastic welcome for a Victorian café.
Penelope Farquharson launched Say Grace Café and received a warm welcome in return.
Aparamedic who stopped in for a quick latte at Casterton’s Say Grace Café & Larder had some healthy advice: “always buy your coffee from a café with an ambulance parked out the front — we drink a lot of it to stay alert and we soon work out what’s best in town.” Such a glowing endorsement can be eclipsed only by the sunny disposition of Say Grace’s owner, Penelope Farquharson. Fresh from an early morning run down the dirt tracks of the 2400-hectare cattle property in the far west of Victoria where she lives with her husband, Scott, her energy is infectious and the customers clearly love her. It’s not uncommon for lunching ladies to drive several hours to Say Grace, while South Australia’s Coonawarra wineries are always telling Melbourne-bound tourists to stop by. The local customer base is diverse. From the mother of two toddlers to the farmer in his rubber boots and the football players enjoying a hearty pre-game breakfast, everyone feels welcome here. “i’m glad it has such a friendly vibe, as I want it to be for everybody,” Penelope says. She and Scott were raised on farms in Victoria’s Western District and came to Casterton, population 1500, seven years ago to manage a family property. Looking at the main street, with its grand old pubs and banks hinting at former heydays, Penelope, a qualified chef, decided the place was ripe with café potential. She chose an empty shop with just the right amount of character — a century-old building with past lives as a hairdressing salon, a second-hand shop and a milk bar — and decided to give the café her middle name. Penelope grins as she recalls her original business plan, which allowed for two staff. “I had no idea, really — now there are 12 staff. Some of them left completely different careers, like teaching and occupational therapy, to work here because they loved it so much. It’s really those girls who make the place.” Work begins at 7am, but Penelope makes sure she finishes early enough to enjoy some downtime or focus on her catering jobs, and entrusts several high-school students with the afternoon shift and clean-up. The shelves lining the 30-seat dining area are stacked with local pickles, sauces, sweets and oils, but there’s also a large range of European delicacies, charcuterie and cheeses. The menu is simple, with a focus on quality and regional character. Cakes are “constantly being prepped”, the hamburgers are made with Penelope and Scott’s own Angus beef, and fruit and vegetables are picked fresh from the farm garden. “a lot of people drop in homegrown lemons, mint, parsley and rhubarb — we don’t use anything that’s been packaged or pre-made,” she says. The couple regularly visit Melbourne for a “city fix”, and have travelled to Vietnam and Bali to enjoy some warmer weather — but Penelope says she missed the wide open spaces. “You can’t even go for a jog over there, there’s so many people. Our driveway alone is two-and-a-half kilometres of empty road.” Say Grace Café & Larder is at 16 Henty Street, Casterton, victoria. (03) 5581 1400.
Penelope in the café she opened in Casterton after she and her husband moved to a nearby farm.
CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP Baked eggs with chorizo and fetta; Say Grace sells its own range of relishes and sauces; the historic building has been a hairdresser, a second-hand shop and a milk bar, but locals love its latest incarnation as a café; passionfruit and lime meringue tarts are made on the premises.