An Inverness-shire baker is planning to set up a food and drink trail to showcase the producers, restaurants and businesses of the Highlands as they recover from coronavirus restrictions.
Douglas Hardie, who runs Bad Girl Bakery in Muir of Ord with his partner Jeni, is in the early stages of planning the trail, which he hopes to launch in May.
The idea, which came about following talks among local businesses around how they will recover from Covid, will direct tourists along Inverness’s riverside restaurants and create a “street food promenade” that will allow popular and new businesses to showcase their fare.
On the back of the idea, which is still in its early stages, Douglas said that the plan for bringing street food to Inverness has been in the pipeline for years.
He said: “We’d been talking to the council for the last couple of years about street food in Inverness, which I felt was one of those things that would help boost footfall in the city centre.
“It’s been identified that food and drink is one of the few growth areas in city centres in Scotland, where regeneration is concerned, and something that can help boost that is promoting a healthy street food culture.
“Those were conversations we were having over a year ago. Then, of course, Covid hit, which initially scuppered our plans, but then the conversation became a much larger thing about hospitality in general, as well as the whole food and drink offering within Inverness and how we recover. For those of us who survive the whole thing and still have businesses, it’s going to be a hard slog to undo the damage.
“So it became more about the whole food and drink offering, rather than just street food. There’s a lovely area surrounding the castle, where you have the river and all of these fantastic riverside restaurants, as well as some more developing areas of the town centre, along Church Street and either side of the river. It’s a lovely place to walk along and there are lots of restaurants on the route.”
Bracketed by Infirmary Bridge and Greig Street Bridge, Douglas’s planned route will take in a whole host of the city’s popular restaurants, though none are yet to sign up to take part in the trail, which is still in the early planning stages.
He added: “We started thinking about a walk-around trail, where you’d start at the Rocpool and head towards Eden Court. You’ve not only got Rocpool there, but you’ve got Prime and the promenade that has the kiosk on it. You’ve got Eden Court, and Ness Walk, then you can cross Infirmary Bridge and that takes you over to Glenmoriston and Contrast, then you’re on that stretch of restaurants there.
“If you go up to Castle Street, you’ve got the tapas bar, Cafe One, Number 27, and then you come out on to the high street. From there you can go along the riverside and you’re along to The Mustard Seed, behind that you’ve got Hootananny’s and Black Isle Brewery Bar there. After that you can go down to Greig Street bridge, which will take you across the river again to The River House and along to The Kitchen Restaurant, and then back to Prime.”
Alongside creating a “tourist route” directing people to some of the best eateries in the city, Douglas plans to set up an area along the River Ness promenade for street food vendors or other Highlands restaurants to showcase their food.
“It’s about a mile-and-a-half and captures most of the best restaurants, cafes and bistros of Inverness. So we thought ‘Hold on, here’s a thing we can direct people to who are actually looking for the best food’. But what we wanted to add to it, on that promenade where the kiosk is between the cathedral and Eden Court, is to allow for a year-round offering there that will provide an ever-changing combination of established street food vendors doing something interesting, local and special,” he added.
“We’re not talking burger vans or fish and chip vans, but actually the really high-quality, really interesting stuff. We’d also want to use that as a place where restaurants from anywhere in Inverness already on the trail, and other restaurants in the Highlands, can actually do a food-to-go al fresco option and show off what they do.
“For instance, the tapas bar, La Tortilla Asesina, couldn’t operate indoors for a large chunk of last summer, and they’ve only got enough space for a couple of seats but Duncan from there loves doing the big paella dish demonstrations on Facebook and making food to go, which they started doing last year.
Posted by La Tortilla Asesina on Sunday, February 7, 2021
“After Covid, we don’t know in what order the restrictions are going to be lifted and whether this summer will be like last year or not. It’s a huge unknown for anyone in hospitality just now. Giving people like Duncan a place where they can actually go and add value to their businesses by doing demonstrative food to go and showing off what they do will be one of the main goals.”
Bringing in other food producers and restaurants from elsewhere in the Highlands is another aim of the trail, with talks also taking place over support for new and upcoming restaurants who wish to use the street food promenade as a platform to launch their idea.
Douglas continues: “It will hopefully attract producers and businesses within Inverness who are outwith the trail or from other parts of the town, as well as people from outside Inverness. We’ve got these amazing food icons like The Seafood Shack and Mac and Wild who both started out as street food offerings.
“We’re hoping it will also help attract people who have a skill, talent or idea in food and drink and fancy setting up their own business. It will give them a chance where they can actually make up a brand, make some sales and get that vital customer feedback and get themselves to a stage where a business is possible.
“We’re also talking to people about temporary premises so that these businesses who are just starting out will be able to move their business into a building when they have the cashflow and to help them grow. Then, hopefully at some point, they’ll actually be able to take on permanent premises of their own.
“It’s a clear and low-risk path into setting up a business for people who have a talent or an idea in food and drink.”
Though the idea isn’t likely to come to fruition until May at the earliest, Douglas is sure that the collaborative effort will help local businesses and be able to rollout the concept to other parts of the Highlands.
He says: “It’s been very collaborative so far. Currently it’s myself and Lesley Strang, who is an event planner and organises Belladrum, that’s putting this together. We’ve been doing this along with Highland Council and the Highlands and Islands Enterprise and lots of other agencies.
“We want to get this up and running in Inverness by May but the idea is to eventually get this concept rolled out to other places across the Highlands.”