Lucy's Ardfern Story
Taste of Place Trails Stories
Lucy Gladstone grew up in Kilmelford on an organic farm and always had a love for the place and its local produce, but when she moved away she didn’t picture herself building a future in Argyll. She travelled a lot, studying in cookery schools, working in Paris, completing ski seasons in the Alps, even spending some time working in shooting lodges, and eventually settled in London. She moved back to Argyll in 2018 to do her driving test, thinking she’d return to London for good after six months or so, but when she was offered the opportunity to start her cafe while she was home, she decided to stay. Lucy says, “I was just in the right stage in my career and my life, with all the experience that I’d had, to open my own place”.
Adapting and changing
Lucy’s Ardfern opened in 2020, and Lucy says “we were only trading for twelve days and then it was COVID”. But she credits her past experience working in all sorts of different environments, and the support of her team at the cafe, for enabling her to adapt to the surprises that came their way and make the cafe a success despite the circumstances. They kept Lucy’s running through the pandemic, offering takeaway options and selling bread and other baked goods to the community to keep them going. Now, with a baby on the way within days when Lucy and I speak, she’s preparing for everything to change again. She’s not worried, though, saying “I’ve got an incredible team” and her manager Heather, who she credits as a “driving force”, will be looking after the business while she’s off having her baby.
Organic and local are key ingredients
Lucy is keen to promote the local produce from Argyll as much as possible at the cafe, saying “I’m always stemming back to my organic farming background, always trying to use the best produce and trying to use organic as much as possible.” It can be difficult, she says, being a bit out of the way, and organic produce isn’t as easy to come by as she’d like in this part of the world, but with all her baking and bread made in-house and much of the other produce sourced locally, it sounds like she’s doing pretty well at promoting sustainability and supporting her local community. She says being “low waste and organic as much as possible” is her goal moving forward.
People make it all the more enjoyable
One of the most enjoyable parts of starting her business, Lucy says, is “the amount of incredible people I’ve found”. She describes feeling a real sense of community form around Lucy’s Ardfern, and in the wider Argyll area of people doing similar things and running their own small businesses. She tells me “It’s been incredible meeting all the other suppliers and I still have so many more to meet. And the relationships that I’ve built with all the people round here.” It’s a real contrast, she says, to her time spent in London and further afield; “it’s been lovely to be back here and feel like I’ve got roots,” she says. “Up here you really do feel part of the community”. It sounds as though Lucy herself has been a catalyst for much of the sense of community she describes, particularly through the pandemic, with the cafe hosting a food bank for local people, and Christmas Carols during the festive period, which were a source of strength and support for people who were struggling.
Quite apart from the exciting– and imminent – arrival of her first child, Lucy has big plans for the cafe’s “first normal year”, as she describes it. They’’ll be taking their food to Belladrum, the sellout Highland music festival, and their pop-up cabins at Kilmartin Museum will be returning this summer after proving to be a big hit in 2021. She has ambitions closer to home, too, with plans in the pipeline for evening openings and sourdough pizzas, and “trying to just improve on everything.”
As is often the way in small Scottish communities, growing up and moving away isn’t always as permanent as we might imagine. Argyll has a particular pull and Lucy, like many others, found herself drawn back to her childhood home, and into an unexpected business which has given her all the success she never knew she wanted.