ONLY in Chinchilla can you go to a local cafe and be constantly stared upon by a tribe of life-like gorillas while you sip away at your flat white.
There’s a mountain of plastic storage containers towering over you on one side and, on the other, a bucket of replaceable broomstick handles selling for two dollars a pop.
By the time you find a seat, you’ve nearly tripped over a pile of multicoloured hula hoops and dodged an army of steely-eyed terracotta warriors made of plastic.
Welcome to Amelia’s Place, the combined cafe and gift shop run “with an iron fist” by a mum-like manager nicknamed Nards, and staffed by a roster of teenagers learning the vital life skills of hard work and team work.
In barely two years, the Middle St business has grown from hole-in-the-wall coffee shop to thriving eatery and variety store.
Despite the global economic downturn, Amelia’s Place is employing 20 locals as it emerges from Coronavirus lockdowns.
For Nards, who’s real name is Jennard Rose, the business is a seven-day grind.
It’s the incessant “ding” of the bell that’s rung every time a food order comes into the kitchen.
It’s the never ending stocktake on an inventory of cheap shop items that runs well into its thousands.
It’s a frenzied juggling act. Coffee cups, cakes, coins, cash and customers. Figurines, fridge magnets, fake flowers and every other ‘effing thing under the sun.
“We originally started with just gifts, but because of the economics of Chinchilla you need to have the variety as well, so we opened the cafe,” Nards said.
“There are so many cheap shops in the area, but we’ve got different stuff to the other cheap shops.”
Too right. The variety at Amelia’s Place is nearly as extensive as it is quirky.
There’s everything from handbags to dog beds, walking sticks to winter socks, wind chimes to hand sanitiser.
There are hanging dream catchers, back to school stationary, cutlery sets, and those glittery cowgirl hats you usually only ever see at costume parties or bucks parties.
If the Covid 19 lockdowns lasted another ten years, Amelia’s Place would have nearly enough 500 piece jigsaw puzzles to keep the town busy the whole time.
Need a toy crystal growing kit? They’ve got you covered. A Ned Kelly wanted poster offering a 2000 pounds reward? You bet. A set of bocce balls? Look no further.
There’s everything. A whole room full of the ugliest garden ornaments and gargoyles you’ve ever seen, including a shoulder-high Snow White complete with the full entourage of seven dwarves.
“Out here, gifts will vary depending on the season,” Nards said.
“All the arts and craft stuff are the steady movers. Kitchen utensils always are very popular too.
“Other stuff isn’t so popular. Snow White’s been sitting there for a while”.
It’s a fun novelty to sit with your coffee and raisin toast, surrounded by a kaleidoscope of colourful woollen beanies, sunglasses and coffee mugs with slogans like “if things get better with age, then I’m magnificent”.
But the best part of the Amelia’s Place experience is the service. You’re guaranteed to be greeted with a smile by the high school kids working part time at the counter.
If you’re lucky, you might even hear Nards keeping the younger staff on their toes – growling at someone from the kitchen for making the type of forgivable error everyone makes on their first job.
According to David Collison, the Kogan-based owner of Amelia’s Place, working at the cafe is like being part of a big friendly family.
Nards is very much the matriarch. When the Caller made contact with Mr Collison for an interview, he referred immediately back to her.
“She absolutely runs the show there, so you’re best talking to her,” he said.
“She’s a firecracker. She runs that place with an iron fist, but she’ll give everyone a fair go.”
Asked about her favourite item on sale at Amelia’s Place, Nards’s response was quick.
“The animals,” she said. “I love them, especially the gorillas.”
But if you want one in a hurry, too bad. They’re so popular that what’s currently left on display is already sold out.