When Mairi Darroch and Suzanne Stevenson heard that Glasgow City Council’s decision to return “underused, disused or derelict buildings in parks to more positive use” included a 1920s tennis pavilion in Newlands Park on the South Side of Glasgow, they realised that this could be the ideal spot for the cafe they had often talked of setting up.
Other people might have run a mile from the neglected building with its boarded up windows, set in a small park that, although frequented by dog walkers, attracted very little footfall.
But Mairi who was brought up in the area and still lives there, had fond memories of the park where she rode her bike as a child and borrowed raquets at the Arts and Crafts-style tennis pavilion to use on the adjacent courts.
“We knew the building had real potential” says Mairi who met her business partner, Suzanne when they both worked in international student recruitment for different universities.
Now in their mid-40s, the two women who discovered a shared passion for delicious food, stylish interiors and excellent customer service, went on to set up a part-time business making cakes and picnic food for parties and events.
Says Mairi: “Our customers started asking us why we didn’t open a cafe where they could buy our food all the time. And then the tennis pavilion became available . . .
“We thought: if we don’t do this now, we’ll get to retirement age and regret that we hadn’t had a go.
“Place is really important to us and our business” she emphasises. “Apart from my emotional attachment to the location, none of the other premises we looked at as part of our market research could rival the pavilion in terms of its architectural style – which we both love – or the setting.”
“Granted, it was in desperate need of huge amounts of TLC and there was a lot of risk attached to its unproved location as a cafe. But our feeling from the beginning was that in such a crowded marketplace, we would need to be distinctive to stand a chance, so a safer option on the high street was not really the path we wanted to take. Added to that, our local knowledge meant that we knew who are core customers would be and the high standards they would expect.”
“We had extensive discussions with the Council before getting the green light” she explains “and stressed to them that, as well as encouraging greater use of the park, we wanted our cafe to become a new social hub for the community.”
The day Can Do Places! visited the Dandelion Cafe – on a dreich, mid week January afternoon – the place was almost full, with a bustling team of workers serving happy-looking customers in the boho chic interior.
“Getting the cafe up and running was harder than we anticipated” Mairi admits. “We have a long term lease with the Council who undertook to make the premises wind and watertight. But we had to do everything else to the building which took us over two years and involved a huge amount of commitment and focus on the end goal. But we got there in the end!
*See the blog cafedandelion.wordpress.com for the illustrated story of how the Dandelion Cafe came into being.