Coffee shops can be found on just around every corner of our modern town centres.
Big name brands flood the profit driven market while independent shops offer that je ne sais quoi which makes your coffee taste that bit sweeter.
The Coffee Bar in Bridge of Don is one of those places championing its own ethos. It’s a non-profit venue found within the former tower section of the AECC building and run by King’s Church in Aberdeen.
The Coffee Bar’s overall vision has been overseen by King’s Church’s senior pastor Iain Duthie, but a team effort from the wider community has allowed the vision to become a reality.
After opening in May this year, Iain has welcomed the influx of positive feedback that The Coffee Bar has received.
“The comments we’ve had are that it’s a very calm and peaceful environment,” says Iain.
“We’re not out to compete with other coffee shops.
“We’re here to provide a space where people can come and have a nice coffee, but also the chance to dial down with the pace of life.”
Doctor turned pastor
Before becoming a pastor, Iain spent more than two decades as a GP at what was formerly Queen’s Road Medical Group in Aberdeen.
Originally from Fraserburgh, he moved to the Granite City to study medicine many moons ago and met his wife Elizabeth, with whom he now shares five children and 12 grandchildren.
“I had fantastic years as a doctor… I loved it a lot,” says Iain.
“But there became a reality to me that even as a medical doctor, there were so many pieces of people’s lives that medicine or the government weren’t going to fix.
“The thing that I felt could change that though, was faith.”
With Iain’s passions shifting from medicine to faith, he took over from his father-in-law as senior pastor at King’s Church back in 2004.
Since then, the church’s following has grown from 120 people to 1,200 and so too has its visions for being an integral part of the community.
“We’ve always been outward looking and endeavouring to have some service and benefit to the city,” Iain explains.
“Our church on King Street started to become unfit for purpose with the scale of people that were coming.
“We had to juggle a coffee space for the adults, a creche and also a place for the kids on Sundays, which would be nine transitions throughout the day.
“But when I realised that part of the AECC was being broken down, I just started on this journey of thinking that this could maybe work for us.”
After gaining the support of Aberdeen City Council and acquiring the keys in August 2020, King’s Church began its journey transforming the large front section of the AECC into The Coffee Bar.
They now also use the building’s main auditorium for Sunday services and have adapted another room as a play area, fulfilling the demand for the extra space they needed.
Covid-19 didn’t allow for an official launch event for The Coffee Bar, but since May this year it has been welcoming all different kinds of customers, which is exactly what Iain had hoped for.
“Having a quick look around, I don’t recognise one face [from the church] – but that’s exactly why we’re trying to do this,” says Iain.
“There’s all types that come in here: students will come and stay all day working, older folk will come in, families will come in.
“We’re not just reaching out to one group of people, it’s an entire community.”
This community focus was most prevalent recently during storm Arwen with The Coffee Bar team handing out free soups to those in need.
However, its self-running model, mixture of paid staff and volunteers and welcoming environment are all central to The Coffee Bar’s overarching ethos.
“Every coffee house has a culture of its own and what we’re endavouring to provide here is our own culture,” Iain explains.
“Nobody is ever rushed out; you can stay here the whole day if you like. Anybody and everybody who comes through the door is welcome.”
Local food and drinks
The Coffee Bar’s range of drinks cater to all tastes. From local coffee beans sourced by Caber Coffee to festive hot chocolates, comforting brews are the perfect option for this time of year.
“Bethany Watt, our café manager, is in charge of all the food and drink prep – she keeps me right!” Iain laughs.
“We have Lorraine from Little Ray Bakes in Newburgh that prepares our cinnamon knots and cupcakes.
“Our coffee machine and coffee beans are both from Caber Coffee based in Aberdeen.
“The whole idea of it is about keeping things local.”
As well as looking forward to serving afternoon teas in the near future, there’s a tempting selection of Christmas offerings on at the moment.
“For Christmas, we have Christmas syrups in including gingerbread and mint, so we can turn drinks into things like a mint hot chocolate,” says Iain.
“We also have a toffee syrup that goes with our Christmas frappe, which is sticky toffee pudding flavour.”
Opening in the midst of the pandemic, Iain admits that despite already reeling in customers, The Coffee Bar is still finding its feet.
But like King’s Church, Ian explains that the venue “exists not for itself, but for others.”
Looking ahead, he believes that The Coffee Bar is a core facet of King’s Church’s ambitions within the former AECC site that can go on to benefit the whole of Aberdeen.
“That’s the dream for us – for the entire space to be of benefit for the city,” says Iain.
“Some of the things that we’re hoping to expand is an area in the building we’ve set aside for helping people with special needs called The Champion’s Club.
“Aberdeen North Foodbank is next door and we’re excited for some of the other partnerships moving in.
“The space we’re in gives us the opportunity to do lots of different things… who knows what will emerge.
“We’re a group of people who want to try and make a positive difference in the world.”