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Retro coffee pod Café Sal is causing a stir in Bridge of Don in Aberdeen

Ron Constable is stirring up success with his retro coffee pod. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.
Ron Constable is stirring up success with his retro coffee pod. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.

To most it may just be a mobile coffee van but to Ron Constable Café Sal is the culmination of years of blood, sweat and tears.

As strong as the locally sourced coffee he brews, proud Aberdonian Ron left school without any qualifications, throwing himself into the world of work as a painter and decorator.

Determined to make something of his life, Ron, who lives in Bridge of Don, then spent 10 years studying to become a primary school teacher while bringing up his children single handedly.

Aged 65 and Ron is showing no signs of slowing down as he juggles work as the joint local association secretary at the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union with Café Sal, the mobile speciality coffee service he set up.

Ron sources his coffee from local supplier Figment Coffee and makes all his cakes by hand. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.

“The way I look at it is that nothing is beyond you if you’re willing to put in the work to gain the knowledge and understanding to put you in that position,” says Ron.

“You need a drive and you have to learn from your mistakes.”

Inspired by farmer’s markets

It was his love of visiting farmers markets that inspired Ron to set up Café Sal, the retro style coffee pod he set up serving everything from fresh coffee, sourced from Figment Coffee in Aberdeen, to hot chocolates and tasty sweet treats.

“We used to go farmer’s markets and I noticed that the coffee stalls always had a steady queue,” says Rob.

“So it was always in the back of my head to do something like that when I retire because I’m not one to sit back, I’m always looking for the next thing to do.”

It was during lockdown when Ron perfected his home baking. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.

Leap in the dark

Percolating his ideas, Ron methodically did his research before investing in a quirky mobile coffee pod.

“I did a lot of research and looked at all the different trailers you could get,” says Ron.

“I then came across this company in Gloucestershire that makes catering pods which have a retro look.

“After much consideration and after visiting the company to see the pods, I invested in one.

“It was a total leap in the dark as I have no expertise in catering apart from making coffee at home.”

Ron’s sweet treats are perfect with a cuppa. Photo supplied by Cafe Sal.

Perseverance pays off

Naming his business after his partner of 20 years Sally Small, Ron delighted his neighbours by giving them first dibs on his hot drinks and home baking.

“I had a soft opening in my street so my neighbours, family and friends benefitted immensely from my coffee and bakes,” laughs Ron.

Struggling to get a spot at the local farmers markets, Ron’s perseverance paid off as he eventually got his chance to take his business to Braemar Farmer’s Market in July last year.

Building up his reputation on the farmers market scene, Ron has since worked at various events including the Huntly Hairst, The Affa Fine open air market which runs throughout the area as well as the Alford Christmas fayre and at the sports complex Knockburn Loch.

Asked what makes his mobile coffee business any different from other vendors, Ron says it’s his attention to detail and excellence.

A friendly smile is always served up with good coffee and fine pieces at Ron’s coffee pod. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.

“My whole ethos is excellence,” says Ron.

“You’ve got to have the best product if you want people to come back to you.

“That’s why I source my coffee from Figment Coffee and instead of just putting a tea bag in a mug, adding hot water and charging £2.20, I source my tea from The Brew Tea Company so it’s a whole leaf tea which is brewed in a tea pot.”

Demand for Ron’s hot chocolate has also been through the roof.

“I underestimated how popular the hot chocolate would be,” says Ron.

“So much so that I’m looking at making a more Italian style hot chocolate.”

Chocoholics will have their sweet tooth satisfied as Ron serves up delicious hot chocolates. Photo supplied by Ron Constable.

French crispy croissants

Those with a sweet tooth are also in for a treat as Ron is a dab hand at home baking.

“I make everything from Rolo brownies to Kit Kat and Mars Bar slices,” says Ron.

“I also make my own Portuguese custard tarts (pastéis de nata).

“At the moment I’m also experimenting with croissants and Danish pastries but I’m not going to sell them until I get them absolutely right.

“I don’t just want to produce a supermarket croissant I want to produce a French crispy croissant.”

Ron is in the process of perfecting his croissants. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.

Summer frappe

Looking ahead to summer and Ron has already got the recipe for the perfect iced chilled drink.

“This summer I’m going to offer Frappes as I’ve just bought an expensive liquidiser which can crush ice,” says Ron.

“The iced coffees sell really well.”

And when Ron is not brewing up coffee, he can be found playing his favourite sport.

“The other great thing in my life is volleyball,” says Ron.

“I think you need a passion in your life as everyone goes through hard times but as long as you’ve got that passion it carries you through and you’ve always got that.”

Supportive family

And the milk to Ron’s Americano is undoubtedly his stellar support network made up of his partner Sally, his grown-up children Daniel and Deborah, his grandchildren and Sally’s children Drew and Adam and their children.

“They’ve been a great support over the years,” says Ron.

Now in his happy place chatting to customers, Ron is excited about what’s to come.

“I spend half my time chatting to the customers as you get to meet some really interesting people and you get to know the fellow stall owners too and their stories,” says Ron.

“Last year was all about me finding my feet so this year I want to go for it.

“One of my ideas is to speak to companies to see if I can bring my pod along to offer a Friday treat type of event.

“But the main stay is definitely the farmer’s markets and festivals.”

A round of questions with Ron Constable

Coffee is Ron’s strong point. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.

What’s your favourite food and drink pairing?

A freshly brewed latte with coconut milk and a Rolo brownie. The coconut works well with the sweetness of the brownie.

If you were a drink, what would you be and why?

An Affogato with strong espresso, vanilla ice cream and crushed ice. You can get very busy at events, so you need strength but have to remain cool under pressure.

Most unusual food you’ve tried?

Doesn’t seem unusual now but when it first appeared, sushi was amazing.

What’s the most under-rated drink?

Iced fruit teas. Bags of flavours that give your taste buds a real shock.

What’s in your drinks cabinet at home?

It’s pretty eclectic. We love cocktails so lots of varied ingredients.

What’s in your fridge at home?

Milk alternatives, mainly almond or oat as well as a good stock of home bakes, fresh veg and fruit and always a lot of fish.

If you were stuck on a desert island, what three drinks would be there with you?

Iced coffees of course, always refreshing. Also a fruit drink probably apple juice and a good stock of craft beer.

You have to make a drink to represent Aberdeen/Aberdeenshire. What would that be?

I think it would have to be an Mocha. Strong espresso, chocolate topped with fresh cream, drizzled with caramel syrup and a sprinkling of crushed shortbread and dark chocolate. In other words the drink version of millionaires shortbread.

You have to serve your favourite superhero or celebrity. Who is it and what do you serve?

Dr. Who. An iced latte to keep cool while saving the world.

Tell us a secret trick of the trade?

Simple really. Always use the best ingredients that you can get.

For more information about Café Sal check out their Facebook.