The exact date has yet to be confirmed. But sometime towards the end of July, Ella Clarke will realise a dream more than two decades in the making.
That is when the 42-year-old expects to open Culture, a vegan cafe and deli in the heart of Inverness.
After a lifetime spent travelling the planet, the Canadian is somewhat surprised her dream has found a home in the Highland capital.
But as she admits: “It’s been a long time coming.”
It was the late 1990s and Ella was in Edmonton, Alberta, when she visited a cafe that stuck with her ever since.
“It was just a great spot,” she remembers. “It had good food and good music and played jazz. Ever since then, wherever I’ve moved to and thought I might stay I’ve always thought, well, is this the place where I open up my cafe?”
From Barcelona to an Inverness vegan cafe
She has come close before, most recently in Barcelona, where she lived for 10 years.
But, accompanied by her Scottish boyfriend, she made the leap from Spain’s cultural capital to Plockton, a village on the west coast of Scotland.
Moving eventually to Inverness, Ella started up her own clean-eating vegan kitchen – named Left Coast Culture for her roots on the western fringe of North America.
She toured the farmers markets and took on a kitchen and prep area on the Belladrum estate.
But, as she built up a loyal following on social media, Ella was looking for a permanent home.
That fell into place earlier this year when Ella took on the lease of 11 Chapel Street in Inverness, the former home of The Grumpy Chef, which closed in March.
The building sits right next door to Inverness Coffee Roasters and across the road from gastro pub MacGregor’s Bar.
With the Iron Works music venue just around the corner, Ella is hopeful Culture can cement a new foodie’s corner in the heart of Inverness.
A soapbox for Inverness vegan cafe culture
The new space will also be a platform for Ella’s firm belief in the benefits of healthy eating. As a nutritional therapist, the Canadian is long used to the idea of the food we eat defining how we feel.
But it was only through a search for answers to her own health issues that she found her way into the vegan world. Once there, she quickly became a convert to plant-based diets.
“I’ve had asthma, eczema and psoriasis my whole life, but it wasn’t until I went vegan that I pretty much eliminated them,” Ella says. “My stomach issue seemed to work itself out, my skin cleared up and my energy was insane.”
Ella went even further into veganism, following a raw vegan and vegetarian diet that led to “even more amazing, healthier changes in my life”.
But the foundations of her new lease of life, she discovered, always came back to one thing – “plant-based, vegan, clean and healthy food.”
When Culture opens, Ella hopes to use it as a platform to share her experience that healthy food can also be delicious to eat, and not just “rabbit food and tofu”.
The deli and cafe will feature the vegan cheese that Left Coast Culture was best known for, along with a wide range of salads, buddha bowls and other plant-based treats.
‘People are excited’
Inverness has already proved receptive to her message.
Ella’s 15 followers on Instagram jumped to 600 less than a week after she announced the new shop. A Facebook post on the opening got 1,200 comments, many of them showering praise on Ella for opening up a vegan business.
In a city that recently saw the loss of vegan cafe Alleycat, the reception gives Ella confidence there is demand for what she’s working towards.
“People are excited,” she says. “I’m already getting orders for grazing boards and picnic packages and weddings and catering. It’s really great.”
But with the anticipation comes pressure. Ella is certain she’ll be ready on time. But as with all new business ventures, there are butterflies in the stomach.
“I’ve never done this before, so of course it’s scary,” she says. “But I am overwhelmingly excited.”
What does Ella recommend you order from Culture, the plant-based deli and cafe in Inverness?
Culture will be open from Wednesday to Sunday and host a wide range of plant-based cheeses, oils, salads, smoothies and more.
But what does owner Ella Clarke recommend you try on your first visit?
“I’d say definitely our Hail to the Kale Salad, or one of our toasted locally-made bagels with in-house-made cashew cream cheese,” Ella says.
“Or one of our deli sandwiches like our tasty vegan no-egg salad sandwich or our lemon and oregano roasted potatoes or tasty crabless crab cakes.”
Elsewhere, Ella recommends her buddha bowls, a vegan salad comprising whole grains, veggies, nuts and plant-based protein all dressed in a delicious salad.
She also promises homemade vegan ice cream for those with a sweet tooth.