The Lass O’Gowrie café and bakery was opened in May 2022 by independent operators, Alison and Robert Abercrombie – best known as Ali and Bob.
Serving up artisan cakes and bakes, homemade food and warm service, the business is everything you might expect from a bespoke, local enterprise.
However, a six-figure investment in a run-down, out-of-use building has breathed new life, community spirit and economic gain into the small rural village of Errol in Perthshire and has launched a thriving second career for United Nations ex-employee, Ali.
“Bob and I had been working in Kosovo for over ten years when we decided to make the move back to Scotland. I’d been at the United Nations, and he was employed by the Judges and Prosecutors Rule of Law mission.
“Over the years we’d travelled extensively, and good food was one of our greatest pleasures. What was apparent to us was that it wasn’t always cost that brought the best experiences. Whether it was Michelin star or straight from a street truck, flavour and service were always the two most important things. It may sound obvious, but all too often, the commercial opportunity outweighs the basic rules of hospitality.
“We wanted to ignite our passion for seasonal and local produce, to show off and be proud of what was on our doorstep, and to take into careful consideration the important issues of community, sustainability and food miles.
“We had lived in Edinburgh before we left but we were both keen for a slower-paced, more enjoyable quality of life. Bob is originally from Inchture and, on realising what the Carse had to offer, it all fell into place.
“We started our journey with AliBob Café, which was an operation within a local fruit winery. However, towards the end of 2020, after seven years in business, we had the opportunity to do something more meaningful for ourselves and for the local community.
“We had created a delivery service during lockdown, delivering food parcels and other essentials to customers who were isolated and vulnerable. There are 10,000 people living in the Carse and many of them were loyal customers. We had learned on the job when we first opened, and it was our turn to give back and say thanks for the support we’d received – it really did feel as though we had a civic duty to do more.
“The building we now occupy, the Victoria Hall, had been lying empty on the High Street of Errol for eight years. Owned by Errol Park Estate, it was built in the 1900s and had been used for many things over the years – from a cinema in the ‘50s, to the local Scout hut in the ‘90s.
“Our experience up to that point meant we had a clear vision, we knew what would work and what wouldn’t work, and we knew we could deliver for the people in the community – at this point there was no food or coffee offering, or even a daytime gathering place, in the surrounding area.
“However, the refurbishment was significant; a yearsempty building was always going to present challenges, and on closer inspection we realised it needed completely rewired, all bathrooms replaced, a kitchen fit out, a services move – and that was before we started on the cosmetics and our vision for a truly sustainable, energy-efficient approach that would minimise our environmental impact.
•Sale of personal property £60,000
•Public sector match funding £40,000
•Crowdfunding from locals and PKC £19,000
“We made the decision to sell our flat in Edinburgh – a move that many would consider foolish, I know! We then approached Invest in Perth at PKC to discuss grant funding, and thanks to a Property Feasibility grant, we employed Mill Architects from Dunkeld to help us to realise our goals.
“From there, we tapped into a Micro Enterprise grant for an EPOS system, an Open for Business grant for outdoor signage and a refurbishment of the gold leaf details, and a Vacant Property grant for the main fabric of the building. Much of this was match funding which made the difference between opening, or not opening.
“As a final effort, just before our doors opened, we ran a crowdfunder which raised £14K from local people and an additional £5K from PKC. Not only did this get us over the line but it also confirmed to us just how much people shared this vision of ours, and that the customers were still there, missing us.
Over the years we’d travelled extensively, and good food was one of our greatest pleasures.”
“We opened The Lass O’Gowrie – named after an ancient variety of local apple – on 16th May 2022 and welcomed a perfect blend of old regulars and new customers. We now have a thriving local business that partners with local suppliers, employs local staff, offers a great quality product, provides a gathering place for people, and brings new life to a once dilapidated building.
“We’ve recently branched into corporate catering and often provide support for events at Errol Park itself. We also run quiz nights and pop-up events such as whisky tastings and food pairing events.
“I would say to anyone who is considering tapping into funding as a route to building their business to do it. It’s easy to be held back by thoughts of large investments in small businesses but when we look at what we’ve achieved, not just for ourselves but for our community, we know it will bring returns year after year, on an economic and human level.”
Find out more: www.thelassogowrie.co.uk