Having had the rug pulled from under them when the market operator ceased trading in June, Julia Bryce uncovers where food businesses will be popping up in the near future.
The Aberdeen Market was something of an institution in the city centre. Back in its heyday when the modern version opened in the 1970s, it was an epicentre of local food, with butchers, fishmongers and more all lining its hallways.
As well as its residents, local food markets would be held weekly dating back to the Victoria era just outside on The Green where the building is located, attracting shoppers in their masses to come and pick up the best produce from the area.
Originally established in 1842, it was burnt down in 1882 and rebuilt in 1884. It was then replaced by a British Home Stores extension in 1971 which is the Aberdeen Market as we know it today.
Before closing this year, Aberdeen Market housed many niche businesses and boasted a multi-cultural culinary offering with various street food vendors offering up some of the best grub in Aberdeen.
It is also the staging for one of the public art festival Nuart’s signature pieces, which was created by German duo Herakut as part of the first festival in 2017, and has been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people from across the globe.
While its reputation locally is divided, it was home to some of Aberdeen’s most unique eateries including Madame Mews, The Sushi Box Aberdeen and the city’s first avocado eatery, AVO.
The coronavirus pandemic has been a challenging time for many business owners with everyone trying their best to diversify to keep their companies going.
However, when the market closed its doors back in March following government guidance, the occupants were unaware this would be the last time they would see their eateries until they would return a few months later, moving everything they had out as a result of the venue going into administration.
The Aberdeen Market was a place you’d visit for a spot of breakfast, brunch, lunch or an early dinner, and was somewhere you could sit-in for the best ramen in town, or slurp on the finest Thai street food. It was a foodie haven, and one which was just beginning to make its mark within the community thanks to a number of the vendors who had invested in trying to turn the space into a food hub.
But where have these businesses who lined the halls and brought some much-needed atmosphere and life into the place gone? And how will they survive having been made homeless throughout a pandemic. Adapting and innovating is what the city does best, and that’s exactly what these foodies have done…
Madame Mews is moving on up
The team at Madame Mews have called Aberdeen Market their home for many years. Relocating just a five minute walk from their previous premises, Madame Mews Restaurant & Bar will now be located on Crown Street at the former Hey Brazil restaurant.
The Thai eatery, which opens in early September, will serve up some customer favourites including pad Thai, phad kee moo, kuay-tiao tom yum, panaeng to name a few, and will also add a range of new dishes to the menu, too.
Run by Mew Garthley, the business was unable to operate during lockdown due to not being able to get access to vital cooking equipment that was stored in the Market. However, Mew has focused her energy in getting the new premises ready, with an opening date soon to be announced.
Four years of heart and soul for The Sushi Box Aberdeen
Another firm affected by the closure is The Sushi Box Aberdeen. Teaming up with The Tippling House, the business now has a secure home in the popular cocktail bar on Belmont Street, and owner Atisaya Aitcheson says she is “looking forward to new beginnings”.
Approached by The Tippling House owner Adrian Gomes who has been a fan of the street food vendor since it launched in June 2016, Atisaya says Adrian’s offer of taking on a kitchen residency throughout lunch service has been a much-needed lifeline in saving her business.
She said: “Gomes was one of our regular customers in the Market. He got in touch last month asking how we were and what the plan was for the future. He asked if we wanted to use his premises as a base to offer lunch from and I can’t tell you how fantastic it was to get an offer like that.
“We stopped throughout lockdown because the Market was closed and if Gomes hadn’t asked us to team up with him now, I don’t know if we’d have been able to do anything just yet either. It has been so nice getting back to work.
“Last week we just started our sit-in operation now that lockdown has been lifted. We’re offering sit-in and takeaway. At the moment we’re open Tuesday to Friday from 11am to 3pm but we’re also going to introduce a Tuesday evening next week, too.
“I’m not used to the space in the kitchen just yet so we started off by just offering sushi, but we’re introducing some more usual dishes our customers love as they are patiently waiting for them. I can’t wait to be running as we would be in the Market. Ramen is always a really popular dish, as are our rice bowls. We have so many regular customers who are eager for us to offer our full menu as soon as.”
Their new residency has also inspired The Tippling House team, too, who will be serving up a range of Japanese-inspired cocktails to pair with the food for the Tuesday evening takeovers which kick off next week.
There will also be bubble tea available during lunch service and Adrian and Atisaya are looking forward to welcoming new and regular customers to the venue.
“Adrian has suggested we take on a Tuesday evening dinner service in the near future so we can theme it around Japanese food and get some cocktails that complement the food on the menu, too. That is really exciting and something we’ve never done before,” said Atisaya.
Also available for takeaway and soon-to-be delivery, The Sushi Box Aberdeen has landed on its feet after communications from the Market staff fell apart in the lead up to the closure announcement.
She added: “We haven’t heard anything from the management or those who we pay our rent to. Last week we got a message to say we could come and collect our belongings at the unit and that was it. It is kind of sad as that unit was my second home. I have spent a lot of time there over the years, so it is a bit emotional, but we’re moving on and we’re so excited about the future. It is a new chapter which we’re looking forward to.”
Not-so-new beginnings brings a time of reflection for Roots Catering
Roots Catering, a plant-based caterer which already has a residency in 99 Bar & Kitchen on Back Wynd and a food truck at the beach promenade, was hoping to launch a new concept, Roots at the Market, which would have seen owner Nick Coetzer introduce a different offering into the space.
“It was devastating not being able to open. We went into lockdown thinking we’d be opening up after it, and we haven’t. We were going to be launching a market alongside the space. The news of the closure wasn’t communicated the best and all the vendors found out what was happening in the local paper,” said Nick.
“We were going to do something very different to the burgers we’re well-known for and it was this pop-up space where we could be imaginative and creative. We had 99 Bar & Kitchen and Roots at the Beach doing well so it was chance for us to do something new. We were serious about the space and the whole rejuvenation of the Aberdeen Market which the team at AVO had already done so much work on in getting the place looking good. It’s such a shame that community space has gone for the smaller businesses.”
With no venue in the pipeline to launch his creative outlet, Nick has turned his attention online, something his business has benefited from doing hugely throughout lockdown when he launched his own delivery service offering customers the chance to try his signature vegan burgers, as well as a fine-dining-inspired three-course meals.
He will now look to release his new butchery side of the business online, with eyes set on markets further afield including Edinburgh and London.
He said: “I haven’t got a new venue lined up yet but the whole shift is now looking to online. I’m focusing on trying to launch our Roots Butchery element of the business. We’re looking to offer our plant-based products across the north-east, further across Scotland and maybe even London. It would be fantastic to have a shop and creative venue where we could hold pop-ups.
“I would love to see something similar to Aberdeen Market in the city, like Boxpark in Shoreditch, London. It would be great to have somewhere like that where the smaller food businesses could afford rates and rent prices. It would be a way for them to try their ideas without over extending, somewhere where the customer gets a really niche product. A communal food court where people could pick and choose what they want and sit on communal benches, and a bar and some entertainment in the evening would be a good way to move forward and do something quite interesting for Aberdeen.”
Going virtual was the right move for Pasta
Francesco Di Nicola who owns Pasta and avocado restaurant AVO is also looking to find his businesses a new home, but is currently focused on continuing his virtual pasta-making classes and sending out his at-home ready-to-eat pasta dishes across the UK.
Launching the services after attempting to offer a delivery service via Deliveroo, Francesco brought his business back to basics to ensure he could guarantee quality products arriving at customers doors.
He said: “We had three days to get everything out of Pasta and AVO. We had loads of appliances and equipment we needed to evict. We’ve had to put some in storage and sell some. Just before it closed, I got all the tools I needed to run my business out and emptied my fridges. If I hadn’t have done that I would never have been able to do what I have done during lockdown.
“Pasta and AVO stopped trading when lockdown first kicked in and then Pasta went on a Deliveroo journey for about three weeks. I decided to shut it due to the fact the food quality was dropping – when it comes to handcrafted pasta, it should be eaten within three minutes, and I didn’t want it to be served 20 minutes later and expect it to be the same quality.
“I then launched the pasta-making workshops and the homemade pasta, too, which took off really well. We came up with the eCommerce website and I now have weekly orders coming in and classes running on Zoom. Customers can also buy meal kits and purchase dishes like haggis ravioli, lasagne, tiramisu, and that sort of thing.
“We’re trading from The Craftsman Company on Guild Street just now, but I don’t think Pasta will reopen to the public in the near future. Hospitality is really challenging just now. It’s all about the service and experience, but right now you can’t get close to customers and they’re doing 60% of the work in ordering, getting their own drinks etc.”
Community was at the heart of Aberdeen’s first avocado restaurant AVO
AVO also called the venue home and Francesco and his business partner David Griffiths worked tirelessly in transforming the market space to bring a new customer base into the venue.
While there are no current plans to reopen AVO at the moment, Francesco is hopeful the legacy it has had will continue in its next home, wherever that may be.
He added: “The whole Market business plan was a three-year project. We wanted to go in and rejuvenate the place and build up units which would offer more variety and opportunity for foodies. We didn’t make it to the three and invested a lot in just one year. We created a real sense of community there and we even got other businesses coming in looking to join forces as a result.
“The rest of the traders renovated their units and I felt things were moving in the right direction. AVO was designed to serve avocado-based dishes to showcase the versatility of the ingredient. We used a lot of local producers to do that, too. You can’t offer that as a takeaway service, it just wouldn’t be the same.
“We have just kept AVO closed for now. I don’t think now is the time to open a restaurant and I don’t want to make decisions which would require investment when things are so uncertain just now. The project and the brand is what people have fallen in love with the most, so hopefully we can bring that sense of community to wherever we end up.”
With many of the vendors having no place to go, Francesco believes a space where newly established eateries can base themselves is desperately needed in the area.
He said: “I think we really need to try and get a new Aberdeen Market. There is so much potential and what has happened is really sad. It needs to have a great location, the right traders, and the right management behind it – not to mention a great vision. We worked so hard in changing the perception people have had of the Market for the past 17 years, and we were just starting to see some real change. It’s a real shame it has come to this.”
Specialising in Hong Kong and Chinese cuisine Taste of Hong Kong has announced on social media it is also looking to make a comeback in the near future, while traders such as Thai Street Food, Combo Cafe & Restaurant and Pad Thai will remain closed for now.
While Aberdeen Inspired has worked hard in building a street food community through its Inspired Nights on the Green events which ran from April to September, there is now no dedicated space for small businesses specialising in niche street food offerings to base themselves.
A three-day market running Friday to Sunday once a month, Inspired Nights has attracted tens of thousands over the course of its various events which showcases local food and drink businesses, so it is clear there is a real appetite for street food cuisine.
The event has been unable to run this year due to Covid-19.