By Catherine Lawson
It’s really no surprise that I’ve ended up in the food industry. If there’s one thing I love to do, it’s feed people.
I’ve been passionate about good food for as long as I can remember and thanks to parents who were skilled in the kitchen and forward thinking when it came to eating for health, I grew up obsessed with creating beautiful food and watching people enjoy it. I’ve often reflected that one of the biggest gifts my parents gave me was the gift of creativity. As a toddler standing on a stool at the stove I was actively involved in preparing family meals and encouraged to play with flavours, explore different ingredients and, once I got older, create my own dishes from scratch. From a very young age I realised that food was how I connected to others and to the world around me. It was how I expressed love and it was my biggest joy. The same is true today.
My interest in plant-based food specifically, started when I reached burnout from my 25-year teaching career back in 2019. As I started the process of recovering, I looked at how I could adapt my food to support my wellbeing more effectively and everything I read pointed to the benefits of a plant-based diet. In addition to the research I came across about the impact on personal health, I also found myself learning about the impact it could have on planetary health. Very quickly I realised that shifting the balance away from meat and towards plants was one way in which we could all contribute to a more sustainable future; our individual small steps of change could collectively have a much bigger impact. It was from this place of understanding, coupled with my decision to change career and follow my passion, that Barefaced Food was born.
Initially, I started making plant-based Buddha bowls in my kitchen at home and delivering them, throughout the first lockdown, direct to people’s homes. What started out as a small venture quickly grew so that within three months I had outgrown my kitchen and needed bigger premises. It was at this point that Bill Costley, who I had met years earlier when I was writing a food column for the Glasgow Herald, gave me access to some of his commercial kitchen space which was lying empty due to the lockdown. The support he gave us at that moment was invaluable and it brought home to me just how much influence bigger businesses can have when they reach out to help start-ups. Without a doubt, Bill’s generosity enabled us to build a team, develop our brand, increase our product range and grow our customer base at that critical time.
In July 2021, together with my son Rory and his partner Denise, we opened the Barefaced Bakery and Coffee House in Ayr where we were able to expand the range of food on offer, incorporating café style brunches and lunches in addition to our signature Buddha bowls, grazing boxes and plant-based cakes. The response to our food has been incredible with people travelling from all over Scotland to visit us. We’ve built a community with customers who cheer us on at every stage of our business journey – they really are amazing. The icing on the cake for us was winning the regional best bakery category at Scotland’s Business Awards in September, an award based purely on customer votes. Without a doubt that has been the highlight of this year so far and confirmation that we’re doing something right.
Our aim has never been to strong-arm people into veganism, but instead showcase the best of the plant-based world by creating food which surprises people: we do this through the food which we produce and through the workshops we run which give people the skills to more confidently create their own plant-based food at home. We’re a long way from the lentil stews of the 70s – these days plant-based food should be packed with colour, flavour, texture and fragrance and it’s these four components which are at the heart of everything we create. Those are our benchmarks. Our grazing boxes, which are one of our best-selling products, are one of the best examples of this.
When I launched the business back in January 2020 it was a huge leap of faith driven by a determination to create a future for myself and my family that was built on my values. Whilst the business has navigated Covid, pivoted to meet customer demand, adapted to market fluctuations and ultimately grown over the two and half years so that ‘I’ very quickly became ‘we’, our mission remains the same; we want our customers to feel good about food. By creating plant-based food which is both nutritious and delicious and by offering a balanced range of healthy and indulgent products, our customers can eat for health, eat for enjoyment and eat for the environment. What we offer is balance and ultimately, when it comes to food, it really is all about finding your balance.