Plans to build a McDonald’s and Starbucks drive-thru in Huntly were lodged by Aberdeenshire Council in March.
It caused a stir in the area — going by posts on social media — with some welcoming the £5 million scheme by Dean West Huntly LLP with open arms.
However, the majority weren’t best pleased.
“Just what the community needs, another Starbucks and McDonald’s. Junk coffee to go with the junk food,” wrote one sarcastic respondent.
Another said: “What happens to the restaurants and cafes already in the town that are struggling to keep going?”
I thought the same thing when I saw the post, but let’s take a look at what residents would rather see.
Town locals want Huntly’s current ‘dire’ food and drink scene to be made great again
I’ve spent a lot of time in Huntly — purely because my grannie has lived in the town for roughly 17 years.
Once bustling every time I stepped foot in The Square, it’s proved on the quieter side lately with vacant shops left, right and centre.
The pandemic may be to blame, or perhaps it’s a change of habits among people in the area.
I recently asked members of a Huntly community group what they liked and disliked about its food and drink scene. From what I gathered, there’s a lot that needs done.
One respondent wrote: “It’s dire! I would sell a kidney for a half decent restaurant that wasn’t just serving the same old fried food that can be found on every menu in the north-east.
“[It needs] Something with a bit of imagination.”
This person has lived in Huntly for six years, who “generally has to go much further afield for a half decent meal.”
The word “dire” came up again.
“[The] Pub scene is dire, same old drunks and having to run a gauntlet of fag smokers,” said another local.
“[The] Food is dreadful! Same old fried and microwave muck. Can’t see it changing so [I] don’t go out in the town.”
Thai restaurant, pub bistro and the return of the Castle Café are in high demand
So, what do residents and tourists want in the town to improve its foodie offering?
Restaurants specialising in Thai and Italian cuisine were mentioned, along with a pub bistro with live music at the weekends, and more takeaway options and outdoor seating.
One individual would love to see improved wheelchair, buggy and specialised buggy access to venues, too.
The Bank Café & Restaurant, The Market Café, The Merry Kettle Tea Shoppe, The Larder, Dean’s, Café India, The Gordon Arms Hotel, Huntly Golf Club, The Mart Café, and Crown Bar are among the food and drink businesses in Huntly.
“Huntly needs far better services during the day and night,” wrote a member of the group.
They also suggested: “A coffee shop and day time restaurant/café for options of food during the day within a family-friendly budget.
“More family events would be great too for all ages.
“The Castle Café was fantastic from early childhood and it was a great little place for all ages to go and have some chips followed by a coffee and bannock. It is sadly missed!”
Another respondent also spoke highly of the Castle Café, writing: “I have everything crossed that when the Castle Hotel reopens they do something a bit more adventurous with the menu and do it well.”
And while additional outdoor seating was suggested, it was actually the lack of sit in venues that people were more concerned about.
“The town centre’s lack of sit-in eateries lets it down,” said one person.
“There are other options slightly further afield including The Bognie Arms in Forgue and The Forbes Arms in Rothiemay, but you have to drive out of town to go to these.
“It would be nice to have more places in the town where you could go for a meal in the evening instead of having to go order takeaway and eat at home.”
‘What food and drink scene? That is long gone…’
There was further concern about the area’s offering.
“What food and drink scene? That is long gone,” someone went on to say.
However, it is important to highlight that the area’s food and drink scene is praised by some — including Alex Cain, who runs Holy Moly Bakes as a hobby alongside her full-time job.
Alex, 49, makes several celebration cakes per week for events, as well as giant brownie slabs and cupcakes.
She is backing the plans to introduce a Starbucks to the town.
“Huntly has a great take out selection from local independent retailers,” says Alex, who lives in Huntly. “It also has a nice relaxed evening meal settings from local restaurants.
“I think Huntly would benefit from the proposed Starbucks café on the A96 as it’s a central point between Inverurie and Inverness, but also a nice relaxed café within the town for locals to visit.”
Susan Forrest, from Aberchirder, also adores the town’s food and drink scene.
The 31-year-old runs Littlefield Farm Shop — located 20 minutes away from Huntly in Aberchirder — which welcomes more than 100 customers weekly.
She said: “I don’t think we lack much. We have a great selection of butchers (including Forbes Raeburn), farm shops and home bakes in our area.”