It is the little restaurant that has what the big ones want: a loyal following, full house Fridays and Saturdays, long-term staff members, and longevity.

All’ Antica has been a Buddina fixture for more than 30 years while plenty of other restaurants have come and gone.

The past 15 of those years have been under the ownership of savvy husband and wife team Helen and Shane McNally.

As a young couple with three children, two aged under three at that time, the McNallys took a chance on buying the restaurant in 2008.

Their gamble paid off and they have become one of the Sunshine Coast’s small business success stories, raised three kids, and become a part of the community.

The couple had been working in restaurants and had an eye out for their own when friends told them All’ Antica was for sale. Helen and Shane drove north from the Gold Coast for a look and did not waste any time.

“The owner was ready to move on. We were ready to move in,” Shane says.

All’ Antica was just what they wanted: a small restaurant with potential that fitted their budget.

That it was an Italian restaurant was even better, as chef Shane had a strong background in Italian food, having completed several seasons working in the Snowy Mountains kitchens for big Italian families who know how to feed people a good meal at the end of the day.

Adds Helen: “In the end, it all happened really, really quickly. We pretty much bought, settled and moved in two or three weeks. I don’t think we could do that now.”

“And then it all went crazy. We haven’t left. We haven’t moved house. We’re still in the same place. We rented and when it came up for sale, we bought it. We haven’t moved for 15 years. We’ve been bringing up kids. We wanted them to be in an area and have lifelong friends. The restaurant has only got busier and busier.”

Helen and Shane McNally

There are no secrets to the McNallys’ success, just hard work, consistency in service and food, and determination.

“You work and you put the effort in. There would have been weeks when the 20-year-old dishwasher made more money than the restaurant did and we kept plodding through,” Shane says.

“Eventually, we got more customers. It’s not a miracle that happens. You don’t open and people flock to you.

“These days, people might have a big following on social media before they’ve even served a meal.

“There was no social media when we did it. It was all our work and very limited advertising – we didn’t really have a lot of money for advertising.”

The McNallys are proud of what they have achieved. They are also proud supporters of the community, sponsoring local football, surf life saving and surfing and bodyboarding clubs (Shane is a state champion bodyboarder).

All’ Antica, a popular name for trattorias throughout Italy, means traditional Italian or “the old way”.

Red and white tablecloths on two outside tables flag the little Italian place in the small shopping centre.

The locals pop in for a chat. The regulars ask for their usual tables when they book, and they know they have to book well ahead for a seat on a Friday or a Saturday night.

Helen says Italian cuisine is always popular because it is tasty, filling and appeals to all ages.

The restaurant straddles both authentic Italian and Australian-Italian dishes to ensure there is something for everyone, no matter what their taste.

“Italian food is probably simpler than people would expect, and you have to appreciate the simpleness of it.

“I’ll do a simple pasta: one or two ingredients and then add the pasta. Australian-Italian food is what people expect. Heaps of sauce, heaps of pasta, heaps of ingredients,” she says.

One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is the Sicilian seafood hot pot, a collection of blue lip mussels, king prawns, New Zealand clams, calamari, fresh fish and scallops simmered in a tomato concasse with chilli, capers, basil, olives and stock, served with fresh bread.

Diners can also expect to find dishes like veal scaloppine, traditional pastas like bolognese and amatriciana, and the classic dessert, tiramisu.

The sauces are cooked the old way, some over 12 hours to really bring out flavours. Breads and pizza bases are made from scratch in-house every day. Fresh produce is delivered to the restaurant every morning. A well-stocked bar offers beer, cider, spirits, Italian cocktails, a healthy wine selection, and delicious liqueurs and coffees.

COVID and associated dining restrictions put All’ Antica to the test but the McNallys were fortunate that they already had a strong takeaway side to their business.

“We were lucky that 50 per cent of the business was takeaways before that. We already had systems in place. It was easy for us to revert to just takeaway,” Shane says.

Business is back to normal these days.

The restaurant offers full table service and the McNallys are proud of the standard of service provided.

Long-term staff, some of whom have been with the restaurant for years, have been a key to upholding standards but Helen and Shane, who both work in the restaurant, lead by example.

He might be owner and chef but Shane will wash dishes if he has to and Helen will polish cutlery.

“There’s nothing that I expect someone else to do that I wouldn’t jump in and do myself,” Shane says.

The McNallys’ daughter, Jade, now 29, used to work in the restaurant and their sons, Harry and Cooper, 17 and 15, do now.

“It’s nice when you see them wave to their mates who have come in to pick up takeaway,” Shane says.

Seeing the next generation working in and visiting the restaurant gives Helen and Shane a kick.

“We have a lot of kids, families and friends who come here. Now we have children whose parents used to bring them here, bringing their own children.”