It wasn’t a good line. The telephone was slightly crackly, or springy or whatever it is that 4G does when it’s not quite working properly. But the words “We’re at the Big Peanut” came through quite clearly. Although I was struggling a little bit to comprehend what they might actually mean. That was my first conversation with Tony Buckley, the new proprietor of a cafe eatery based at the site of the eponymous BIG PEANUT near Tolga on the road between Atherton and Mareeba.
A couple of days later, and as promised, I arrived to find there was indeed a giant smiling model Tony sat outside at a shaded table, his attention split between some business papers and customers being served further along the building. He guessed my identity before I his, perhaps my city shoes, or perhaps my deliberate gate. Not however any semblance of proximity to our prearranged meeting time, the day had long since turned to Tablelands time, I was, for anywhere else, running significantly late!
After I was furnished with a coffee and a shady seat, I got to the purpose of my visit and settled in to meet and find out more about his venue. Tony was a jack of all and a master of some. A self-confessed serial entrepreneur with experience in many trades and in many places. Originally a native of Atherton who moved away, only to come back when it was decided that he needed a change of pace to his working life. And that a cafe-style eatery was of a peanut-shaped gentleman, standing at the roadside. A smiling, happy guardian of one of the many crops common to that area of the tablelands. Adjacent was a low slung building that housed the new, few months old, eatery I was to visit. A series of arches along its frontage with a veranda style roof overhang gave the building the feeling of a ranch, the whole thing framed well against the lush green of banana trees behind it. If it wasn’t for the main road not far away from its doors, the scene is somewhat idyllic, set in a quiet green meadow sandwiched between flourishing agricultural land. the answer to this requirement. Early in our conversation as we discussed his time there and his previous careers, he used the word to describe the place as nostalgic. He said the people who came there had a sense of nostalgia. ‘They want the food their mother made for them, and if she didn’t, they wished that she had.’
They wanted simple things, things they could eat there or take away. This wasn’t a complicated area, he explained, and it didn’t need a complicated offering. Early on, he chose to do only a few things, but do them well. To focus on trying to find the freshest produce to allow him to embed himself in that community which he held dear, for no better reason than it was his home.
Since opening it had refreshed many old relationships, bringing with them interest from all corners. Tony’s even becoming a stand-in patron for local artists and produce, especially those less abled, or without other avenues for exposure. He had introduced a stall for local craft products, artwork, and local produce. This was not a complicated affair, nor did Tony want to make it so. These guys just need somewhere people can see their stuff, we sell quite a lot for them. He spoke with fondness of particular artists and a quiet pride that he was able to help.
As we sat talking, it was surprising, the number of vehicles that pulled in off the highway to grab everything from coffee, a baked potato, a pizza or to pick up some produce or even some peanuts. The Pizzas are a sight to behold, they come in an authentic deep pan and are laden with whatever it is their variety describes. Pizza cooking starts early, and there is indeed a breakfast pizza with bacon and eggs, for those who can’t wait until lunchtime for their Italian ‘good time’. Tony told me that the name of the cafe “Me two You” (me 2 U) was also a comment on how he wanted this to be a place to meet and a place of community. He spoke not from a position of social work but more from a position of helping people to find opportunity. From the employees he had, through to the producers from whom he purchased. You couldn’t help feel he took this as a serious responsibility and ‘local’ was he can get it, and enjoys the thought of being stubborn about trying to do the best with what he has. There is a certain gentle relaxedness about the whole place, the staff are happy, their service earnest, and regardless of the midday heat the smiles all round tell a story of people who wanted to be there and were enjoying the experience. Tony and I talked for quite a while, putting the world of food and beverage to rights. He was adamant in his support of the reduction of food miles. Of trying to obtain produce before it leaves the region or state only to return differently packaged. It’s not hard to recommend the bi-word by which he lived. Maybe it takes someone who grew up somewhere to feel this kind of kinship, but he had a strong desire to create a haven, the antithesis of our instant and casual society. It did all indeed feel nostalgic, not sentimental, but purposefully reflective. When I was dutifully offered a coffee, which was by the way, very good, it was in a large slightly luminescent cup. The beans Tony informed me, were from a small family grower not that far away, he went their personally to buy them. It rated, the coffee was smooth and easy drinking and enjoyable.
At least half of those coming in to purchase were locals, busy on their way somewhere, or taking a break from the arterial route from the Tableland’s two main towns. Others were tourists in their camper buses or hire cars, seeing the low slung buildings and deciding to take a well-deserved break with coffee and a cake. Shortly, Tony will be selling ice cream there. He told me that some of his detractors had suggested ice cream in the winter on the Tablelands might well be an absurdity. One of his regulars guffawed at this negativity providing an anecdote of a time when they were skiing and eating ice cream. I agreed, for me anyway, ice cream counts as a food group and is devoid of seasonality. He looks forward to being able to utilise more local produce when places like ‘Me 2 U’ because they are honest and homely and no one said the word, diner, or traditional, or small town but they were all there in the subtext of our conversation and hiding just out of view in the peanut and banana groves.
Meet Tony and get fed at the Me2U Cafe by pulling over by the giant peanut man on the road to Tolga! Me 2 U has been able to trade for takeaway during Covid-19 Restrictions.