photo of coffee shop table
Photo: Sammi Ciardi

Many students at our university relish the opportunity to part with their money in Zest, a local café and salad bar in St Andrews. However, how many of them actually know where the money they spend there goes? The Saint sat down with Lisa Cathro, the owner of Zest, to find out more about the string of projects that the Zest team is involved in.

Zest has grown as a result of a desire to help others live fulfilled lives, a cause that is championed by the owner herself. Ms Cathro is passionate about human welfare and has spoken publicly in the past about her experiences as a victim of domestic abuse as well as about her struggle with depression and anxiety.

Ms Cathro began the business with little experience and limited funds shortly before the economic recession began. She admits, “I had no idea how to run a business never mind navigate it through the recession, so it was a huge learning curve, it was massive. We got through, made a lot of mistakes, learnt from them, fixed it.”

Not long after Ms Cathro had taken charge of the business she was approached by Fife Council Supported Employment Service and asked if she would provide a placement for someone with learning difficulties. It was this experience that led her to not only seek support herself, but also to her finding what she truly wanted to achieve with her business.

Following this Zest began to offer placements to men from local prisons, which Ms Cathro believes will serve them well upon their release.

Speaking about this ongoing arrangement, she said: “If the prisoners know they have perspective employers who know they’ve been inside, they can phone me and have a chat. It’s mainly about confidence, and getting used to being in a normal environment, having normal conversations, getting to know people, building relationships and learning skills.”

The rest of the Zest team are now heavily involved in teaching and training, and Ms Cathro has attended various courses including as Mental Health First Aid which have equipped her for widening her range of employees. For example, Zest has now worked with Enable Scotland, Fife College and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as part of its mission to provide supported employment.

Even after setting up all of these new ventures, the Zest team did not stop the expansion of their community work there. Following the initial prison work placements, Ms Cathro started up an employability course that lead to her teaching groups within the prison advanced skills, and even finding them work experience in branches of Costa around the Dundee and Perth area. Her next employability training course with ten inmates is set to begin shortly, and new apprentices will soon begin work in both the café and salad bar.

Moreover, the team will soon embark on a series of new projects, which include sponsoring and running a workshop for the Fine Dining Society, beginning their own Wednesday afternoon ‘Introduction to Coffee’ classes and heading the campaign to make St Andrews a dementia-friendly community.

Furthermore, due to the lack of Fair- trade branding in Zest, many people are unaware of the superior nature of the coffee they serve. Ms Cathro who, along with her café manager, is an internationally trained Master Barista and one of only five coffee trainers in Scotland, is proud to use her friends’ Aberfeldy based coffee company, Glen Lyon.

She said: “speciality grade is like the top 5 per cent of all the coffee in the world and there’s only about 5% per cent of cafés that actually sell speciality grade, but it’s increasing, especially in London.”

Continuing, she added, “For our coffee, we pay about 10 to 20 per cent above Fairtrade prices. That’s because the farmers are rewarded for putting the time and effort in to learn about how to grow excellent coffee. They’re not given handouts, they’re not given subsidies, they earn that.”

Ms Cathro explained that there was a large difference in farmers who wanted to work for themselves and those employed at large plantations. “So people who are looking for an organic label, [generally find that from coffee that comes from] bigger farms that have been certified, whereas [Zest] is buying from really small farms that are doing things really well and producing a great crop, but they’re maybe not wanting to spend that extra money” she said.

The coffee isn’t the only thing to be paid attention to. Responding to the increase in dietary requirements and preferences, Zest not only has a delicious display of gluten-free cakes on offer in the café, but has also opened a salad bar on Market Street, creating a haven for vegetarians, vegans and those who live by clean-eating.

When asked in what way she believes Zest can cater for this market, Ms Cathro answered, “At the salad bar, we get everyone who’s got allergies or can’t have certain things. There are so many vegan options with all the juices.”

It is clear that while we may thoughtlessly purchase refreshments and food without giving a second thought to their origins or to the staff who serve them to us, every detail is considered at Zest, by a team comprised of individuals who are passionate about both people and produce. With very little funding available to them, it is Zest’s customers who make the team’s work possible.

Ms Cathro is appreciative of the support that she has built up in St Andrews saying, “We have ended up having a much stronger team ethic and much stronger team, and it has become more like a family.” She publicly recognised this by changing the slogan of the shops to ‘Together We Are Zest’ because, as she points out, “it’s all about the people, if it was just me it wouldn’t work.”

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