When Mark and Samantha Robb announced plans for Banff’s first plant-based cafe last February they could scarcely have imagined the challenges that lay ahead.
The couple might have at first anticipated struggling to get locals to embrace the “facon” sandwiches on offer at Baobab, or to persuade them to take oat milk with their tea.
A deadly disease forcing a nationwide lockdown in March seemed unthinkable even weeks earlier when the pair declared their aims.
And the thought of varying levels of restrictions remaining in place for the next year-and-half sounded even more far-fetched.
But Mark and Samantha doggedly pursued their dream.
They received the lease for their premises on Low Street in June, and were able to open in September.
Even after being shut down in December when the Covid second wave swept the nation, they kept their heads above water by selling take-away meals at a time when other firms collapsed.
‘We definitely won’t survive this’
With Scotland now in Level 0, Mark and Samantha had been looking forward to the business enjoying some normality for the first time.
But now Baobab faces a threat even greater than the pandemic, in the form of ear-splitting £700,000 council roadworks taking place outside the front door.
The local authority maintains the major project will “bring Bridge Street back to life” by making it far more pedestrian-friendly.
Meanwhile, the cafe’s takings are down 60% with diners fleeing in their droves after having their eardrums rattled.
Mark fears that, the way things are going, the cafe won’t survive by the time the 22-week scheme concludes in October.
He said: “This is affecting several businesses but it’s especially bad for a cafe like ours.
“People walk in, say ‘I’m sorry, I can’t bear this noise’ and then walk back out again.
“Our turnover is down by 60% because of it.
“At this rate, we will be bankrupt before the 22 weeks of the project are up, that’s for sure.
“We definitely won’t survive this, there’s just no way on Earth. We are barely covering our overheads.”
Visitors deterred by din
The cafe’s most popular items are its Mediterranean and Mexican waffles, with plant-based pancakes a close second.
But those, along with a range of vegan and gluten free cakes, are going untouched more and more frequently.
Mark told us how a family recently travelled from Aberdeen to visit the cafe, but once they arrived and heard the racket outside they swiftly left without buying anything.
“They ended up sitting in their car with a take-away”, Mark said.
“In a cafe, people want to sit and relax and chat.
“I have been asking the council to support us with some sort of grant or compensation, but haven’t had any luck with that.
“The work was tolerable initially, but has just become so loud recently with jackhammers and the stone being cut up… And it looks an absolute mess.”
Council says work is worth the hassle
An Aberdeenshire Council spokesman stressed that the roadworks taking place had been designed to help traders.
He said “The works are part of the Bridge Street Public Realm Improvement Scheme which aims to prioritise pedestrian movement on the street with a focus on small shops and businesses, along with a number of other improvements.
“The project began in May and is due to be complete by mid-October, and we apologise for any disruption while the works take place.
“We would like to remind customers that Bridge Street shops will remain accessible throughout the works and thank local businesses for their patience.”
Mark added: “It feels like the council is going to end up with a lovely road with no shops on it, it’s just a sad state of affairs.”