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How a V&A partnership helped Dundee’s Heather Street Food become a ‘beacon of light’ for customers

Ever since they launched in 2019, couple Chris Heather and Melodie Paterson have been taking Dundee’s street food scene by storm with their Drinky Malinky and Heather Street Food brands.

Situated outside the city’s V&A Museum, the pair have established themselves as one of the go-to places for food in Dundee’s cultural quarter.

Featured as the first street food firm in our Street Food Scran series which celebrates street food in the area, the business’ success hasn’t come without many risks and low points, particularly when Covid-19 forced the nation into lockdown early last year.

Chris said: “Heather Street Food started back in 2019 when we flew down to Cornwall and bought a beautiful three-wheeled Italian Piaggio and turned it into a prosecco van called Drinky Malinky.

Chris Heather holding street food from his Heather Street Food van
Heather Street Food’s Chris Heather.

“We were fully booked in 2020 for weddings and events and the business was in a strong enough position for us to leave our full-time jobs.

“Then Covid-19 hit and every single booking for the year cancelled in the space of a week. I had literally left my job two days before we went into lockdown so it was a scary time.

“We had sunk all of our savings into Drinky Malinky so I was about to spend a summer picking berries on a local farm when we got the go-ahead to set up a street food van in partnership with V&A Dundee.

“It couldn’t have come at a better time – we had only £4 left in our bank account! We needed to offer food as well as drinks so we used a credit card and bought a converted horsebox from a friend who had moved to Dubai.

Chris Heather garnishing a halloumi fries dish with pomegranate
Chris Heather garnishes their halloumi fries with pomegranate.

“It was a huge risk and we had a lot of sleepless nights but it turned out to be the best risk we’ve ever taken because Heather Street Food has grown into something far bigger than we could ever have imagined.”

Dundee street food popup

Ever since they launched their street food van, Chris and Melodie have several highlights from their months operating during lockdown, especially during the winter months and “being a beacon of light” for locals.

Chris said: “Turning up to work on a freezing winter morning in lockdown to a queue of 30 people waiting for us to open was definitely a highlight.

“In the middle of lockdown, in the middle of winter, when the only people who were allowed to visit us were locals and they were there every day in their hundreds, we felt honoured and grateful to have set up right here in Dundee.

“It was humbling being a beacon of light for people those dark times.

“We had a genuine sense of purpose and our purpose was to provide a moment of comfort and normality when people needed it most.

“We haven’t properly paused to reflect on what we’ve created and how different our lives are now compared to how they were at the start of the pandemic.

“We’re getting married in August and we’re hoping to have a honeymoon in November so that will give us a chance to digest how wild this past year has been.”

Inspiration from abroad to the Dundee V&A

Best known for their ridiculously eye-catching doughnuts, the couple took inspiration for their offering from a trip to Australia.

Chris added: “We’re best known for our hot, fresh doughnuts. Melodie had once visited a street food market in Australia and I asked her what street food stall had the longest queue.

Chris Heather and Melodie Paterson smiling, sitting near the Heather Street Food van
Melodie and Chris.

“She said the longest queue was for an old Greek man selling hot doughnuts with Greek honey that he made in a little pan.

“Even though he had a simple stall – just a folding table and a frying pan to cook his doughnuts in – this guy was mobbed every night. Based on that alone, we worked on a recipe and started making hot fresh ones. Now we sell more than 20,000 every month!”

Dundee’s Heather Street Food a sign of the times

As numerous workers in the hospitality industry found themselves furloughed or redundant as a result of the pandemic, many went on to open street food businesses, just like Chris and Melodie.

Scotland’s now-thriving street food scene is something that makes “perfect sense” to the pair.

“It makes perfect sense. When indoor dining was closed the only option was to eat outside,” continued Chris.

Heather Street Food owner Chris Heather holding two portions of halloumi fries
Heather Street Food owner Chris Heather with their halloumi fries.

“The data has always been clear that outside is far safer than inside so street food has been a great way for people to socialise whilst enjoying new flavours and experiences in the open air.

“The pandemic also gave a lot of would-be-entrepreneurs the shove they needed to start their own business.

“If you’ve been paid off from your job or lost your job due to covid, a certain percentage of people are going to turn a negative into a positive and use that as an opportunity to take a crack at something they never had the time or energy to do prior to the pandemic.

“As long as you have good recipes and are hard working and pay attention to the details, street food is a great business to be in.”

Map of street food vendors in the north and north-east

For more on street food…