Picnic Cafe: Glasgow’s new go-to lunch spot
The New Normal sits down with the owners of Glasgow’s Picnic Cafe to discuss veganism, business and the upcoming Glasgow Vegan Festival.
Noted as the vegan capital of Scotland, and second only to Brighton in the UK, Glasgow is widely regarded as one of the best cities to be a vegan. The number of vegan options available to the community has aided in this title with more and more eateries opening all the time.
A sheer glass wall, supporting an eye-catching green sign, breaks the monotony of the stone fronted buildings that line Ingram Street. Drawing closer one would see customers coming and going from the establishment, especially if one came during lunch hour.
Entering Picnic Cafe, one would be struck by the surprising feel of space that the glass window front provides, or the warm and welcoming décor. It is at once both natural and chic. Crisp white walls set against light beechwood surfaces and chrome fixtures stand alongside a pastel mural, reminiscent of a late summer sunset. One is instantly at ease in the space Picnic provides, the open view of kitchen simply adding to the welcoming atmosphere.
Opened in December of 2016 by husband and wife duo Nick and Michelle Morrow, Picnic specialises in vegan cuisine, in a relaxed cafe atmosphere. When asked what led to the creation of Picnic Cafe, Nick explained the gap in the market they had found,
“We’re both vegan and like to eat out, and we were quite frustrated, really, by the lack of places to go for lunch.” He said, “We didn’t always want to go to places like, let’s say the Thirteenth Note or Mono or Stereo because they’re more bars, there’s nothing wrong with these places but they’re not always what I’m looking for.”
There are many influences Nick cites as the inspiration of the in the look and feel of Picnic. From frequent trips to Berlin, a famously vegan-friendly city, to wide ranging research on attractive design, Nick and Michelle spent a significant amount of time on how the business would appear to the customer.
It is at odds with the design of other vegan eateries, which Nick and Michelle had consciously considered. “We knew we didn’t want it to to be typically vegan edgy-shabby, which is a popular look, but we wanted Picnic to be more broad in its appeal.”
When I note the warm atmosphere of the café, Nick jokes that this is entirely the result of the oven but I’m convinced otherwise. There’s an underlying friendliness and openness which is in the bones of the business.
A broad and informal appeal seems to be a common thread that runs through the business, a sense of “widening the vegan message”, as Nick says.
The informal, “what you see is what you get” message is evident even in Picnic’s products. For the vegan smoothies, one can see all of the ingredients on display before ordering. It’s an interesting concept, displaying everything of a product but the finished product, creating both a sense of mystery and complete transparency. The smoothies, like many other products on offer, provide an easy window for curious non-vegans, into the vegan lifestyle.
Veganism is continuing to grow in Glasgow, which provides a large market for Picnic to draw upon. I ask Nick why the city is so vegan-friendly.
Nick points out that it’s “which came first the vegan chicken or the vegan egg situation” – the more vegans there are the more vegan businesses open which allows more people to become vegan. Thus, a city like Glasgow grows on two fronts in an almost exponential sense.
Asked on how Picnic built trust with the large vegan community, Nick said that by catering primarily to vegans there’s less of a barrier in the first place, that businesses which cater to vegans but do not do so exclusively have a much harder journey in earning that trust. Nick notes that one simply is not able to know if something they’ve eaten may have been fried in the same oil as a meat product. Establishments that vegan-specific companies like Picnic simply do not have the option of.
I ask how Picnic has changed since opening. Nick says it hasn’t changed drastically, “We spent a lot of time before we opened and we had a very clear idea of how we’d function but what has changed is the number of staff we thought we’d need to employ verses how many we actually needed, because we’ve actually been very busy, which is a great problem to have.”
He notes that there were few other changes beyond learning how to work efficiently together and build a team environment. It’s clear from interacting with the staff, that’s there’s a real love for the business and the food it produces. Indeed, part of the warmth that Picnic has comes from the staff themselves who are as open and welcoming as the owners.
With the Glasgow Vegan Festival drawing close, focus has somewhat shifted to the upcoming event and the opportunities it provides. Nick notes that such a festival is important both for supporting and celebrating the vegan community and the various businesses which rely on it, but also for expanding the community and allowing others to find products and services they might not be aware of.
Nick seems hopeful for the future of the business, particularly from what can follow from the festival. “There’s a lot that can be gained from this festival, it supports the [vegan] community and helps it grow”