By CAITLIN CROWLEY
THERE’S a new player in the Darling Downs food scene going a step further than ‘paddock to plate’ – serving up succulent Wagyu beef and locally sourced produce from somewhere you’d least expect.
Sonia Hornery greets me with her trademark megawatt smile but behind the bright pink lipstick is a fierce determination, resilience and entrepreneurial spirit which has led this cattle queen to her latest business venture.
She purchased what was Goombungee Antiques and Cafe late last year, embarking on a total transformation of the property and its menu, starting with a name change.
“I called it Vintage Cow, because I sold old cows to buy it,” Sonia laughed.
“I wanted to do it without the bank, so the old cows – with the cattle market being as strong as what it was – had to go.”
“When I bought it I was really just buying somewhere to live in the short term, with the side line of being able to develop this into something that reflects the rural industry.”
It’s an industry Sonia has dedicated her life to and a passion she shared with her late husband, Lachlan Hornery.
Their love story started on Queensland’s campdrafting circuit in the early 1990s and blossomed after Lachlan called on Sonia, then a young veterinary technician, to lend a hand on his Central Queensland property.
“He rings me and says, we’ve got a thousand cows to AI, will you come up and do them? I said yep, no worries. So I went up, and never came home,” she laughed.
Within two years the pair was married, and five beautiful children and a dream life on the land followed.
The Hornery family was pioneers of the Wagyu breed in Australia, taking Sonia’s interest in genetics and IVF to the next level.
“I was there from day one when the Hornerys started AI-ing – we built a purebred herd, so four generations of Wagyu,” she said.
But that dream life was shattered when Lachlan was diagnosed with lymphoma in early 2008. At the time their children ranged in age from just two to eleven.
The family relocated to Brookfield on the outskirts of Brisbane so Lachlan could undergo chemotherapy.
It was during those darkest days, Sonia found community in the tight-knit town and built bonds which would become invaluable after Lachlan lost his battle with cancer later that year.
“Brookfield was very much like a village, everybody knew everybody and it was a family that helped me raise those five children after Loc didn’t make it through chemo,” Sonia said.
It’s also where the idea of owning a local store or cafe first sparked, simmering away until late last year when Sonia found herself house hunting in Toowoomba to be close to her two youngest children during their studies.
At first she rented a place in the city but admits she hated it and immediately felt like a “fish out of water.”
She started looking further afield and stumbled onto not just somewhere to live, but a new business opportunity in the tiny town of Goombungee.
It’s clear Sonia has a knack for turning ideas into opportunities, listing various businesses she’s developed over the years – a horse riding venture, a dog kennel in the FIFO town of Moranbah, and a Wagyu pie concept she sold to Brumby’s.
Now it’s a boutique cafe celebrating the locally sourced and sustainable ethos today’s “conscious consumers” can’t get enough of, just as a new generation of young families moves into town.
“There’s a new culture – those young families who have maybe come from the city, they’re culturally trained to be exposed to that (food culture),” Sonia said.
“Breakfast is a big thing for us here, and I have my own Wagyu sausages and my own rissoles I make that morning, with a gravy I’ve made from where the rissoles are cooked.”
“I always say conception to consumption, not paddock to plate. Because I either AI’d or bred those calfs and grew them right through to when they went to the meat works.
“I used to slap them on the bum as they’d go out to the meat works and say, thank you for the school fees!”
Vintage Cow is proudly a deep fried-free zone with a seasonal menu reflecting what Sonia can source from a growing list of local suppliers.
“The farmers around here are supporting me – your chickens and your eggs and your veggie gardens – they walk in the door and say, ‘is there anything you need right now?'” she said.
She’s recruited a local baker who is taking the lead with cakes and sweet treats and a new chef to join her in the kitchen.
Tourists and diners coming for a country drive from Toowoomba and Highfields are her main customer base but Vintage Cow has been embraced by locals too, with Friday pizza nights proving particularly popular.
Sonia has big dreams for Vintage Cow and the large vacant block behind it, hoping to open the space for community groups and potentially even weddings down the track.
“I love making people feel good.
“There’s been times when I’ve gone, I’m just not game to dream again because if I don’t dream, I won’t have to be disappointed if those things I really wanted didn’t happen,” Sonia said.
For now, she’s turning her dreams into reality, one hearty meal at a time.
“I’ve had some pretty amazing people around me. That village mindset of Brookfield has overflowed into here.”