State of grace

Country Style - - CONTENTS - WORDS GRETEL SNEATH PHOTOGRAPHY SHARYN CAIRNS

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.

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