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The vegan food and drink scene in Inverness, Nairn and Elgin – is there ‘a growing appetite’ for it?

Nicola Mackinlay and Megan Walker run MNM's cafe in Nairn with a selection of desserts
From left, Nicola Mackinlay and Megan Mclean. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Catering to vegan clientele is something that has improved significantly in recent years at restaurants and cafes.

This does not have to involve transforming whole menus or business concepts but making a few tweaks here and there.

“We try to offer as many vegan options as non-vegan, and always look for a vegan option where possible,” says Gemma Taylor, owner and manager of Blend in Inverness.

Pancakes, waffles, and soups are among the offering for those adhering to a vegan diet at Blend.

Gemma Taylor of Blend. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

But while the business owner believes “there is a big appetite” for vegan grub in the city, she does not want to deter an entire food group – meat eaters – from visiting her cafe.

“I’ve noticed a lot of our vegan customers tend to visit with groups, friends or family who are not vegan,” Gemma added.

“Perhaps some non-veggie or vegan people are less likely to visit a solely vegan place than somewhere that caters to both.”

Vegan food in Inverness

A quick Google search for vegan food in Inverness will display a list of establishments catering to both vegans and non-vegans alike, like Blend. They include:

Gemma and Lara Elsayed, co-owner of Inverness takeaway Salt N Fire, agreed that there is a big appetite for it in the city.

Gemma said: “We have always had a big vegan customer base, even now that more fast food/supermarket options are available.

“There are lots of people as well who try to eat veggie or vegan just occasionally so it’s good for them to have regular places to go.”

Lara added: “I do believe there is a growing appetite for this type of cuisine as the food we offer is not only healthy but tasty and interesting.

“Our customer base is not only vegan, it is a broad segment of the community.”

Much more than just ‘lentils and lettuce’

Referring back to the list of eateries with vegan options in Inverness, a small amount offers solely vegan grub. Salt N Fire is among them.

The business is aiming to break the stigma that the cuisine is dull and launched in the Victorian Market less than three months ago.

“There was a gap in the market and I hope we have gone someway to fill it,” says Lara.

A Salt N Fire poke bowl. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

“The general impression that people seem to have of vegan food is that of lentils and lettuce, and in reality, vegan food is so much more than that.

“I have found that people are interested in the healthy nutritious food we’re offering. However, I have to emphasise that if it wasn’t tasty it would not sell.”

Do we need more local vegan food?

Gemma went on to say: “I’d always like to see more places offering vegan cuisine, especially different varieties of food.

“We’ve had a good relationship with other businesses offering vegan food, it’s always good to have somewhere to direct customers if you don’t offer the particular thing they’re looking for.”

Lara added: “I think Inverness is expanding and will need more quality food outlets to serve both a local community and the tourists.

“I am always in favour of competition as this drives us all to improve our performance, ultimately benefiting the consumer and pushing up the standard.”

Lara Elsayed. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson 

The owner of the MNM’s Cafes in Nairn and Elgin, Megan Mclean, also feels Nairn and Elgin would benefit from having more options on the table.

She says it’s important to offer vegan menu items to “encourage inclusivity”.

“There is an increasing demand for this cuisine in our area,” Megan added.

“We have vegan savoury breakfast and lunch options in both our cafes. We get our vegan cakes from a local vegan baker – Pure Bakery. They’re great!”

Victorian Market

Gemma and Lara agreed that the opening of the Victorian Market marks the start of a new chapter for the food and drink scene in Inverness.

Gemma said: “I’d like to see more high-quality street food/fast-food options, though hopefully, the new food court in the Victorian Market will grow to incorporate more of that.”

Inside the Victorian Market food hall. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Lara added: “The Victorian Market is a historical sight and has huge potential for small and local businesses and I hope that all businesses flourish and have great success while meeting customers’ interests and demands.”