Louise Smart is a self-confessed coffee snob.
Her love for the hot brew has taken her all around the world from Scotland to Singapore.
Yet, she believes that her business’s own coffee in Aberdeen – which has HRH Princess Anne’s approval – is some of the best you can wrap your lips around.
Louise is the co-owner of Orka Artisan Café, along with her partner Gary Eunson, which is based in the west end.
The business has faced many challenges since opening in late 2019, but it’s come out the other side stronger than ever.
Quality coffees and homely bakes are its main staples, with all of its products sourced from various Scottish suppliers.
And with a second venture in Ballater opening just a few months ago, things are continuing to look positive for the Orka team – as well as very busy.
“I’ve been working all the hours at God’s end!” Louise laughs.
“It’s been really busy.
“I maybe thought it was going to be a bit easier working for myself – it’s not as easy as I thought it would be.”
West end girl
Originally from Ellon, Louise first moved to Aberdeen’s west end when she was 16.
She remembers the area fondly as the place she hung out with friends and drank her coffee.
But when Louisewent on to work globally in HR for the next two decades, she returned back to a slightly different city from what she remembered.
“I moved back to Aberdeen nine years ago and was doing some consultancy work for a while,” she says.
“But when I moved back, because of the way the industry was, there was a lot of doom and gloom with the recession and redundancies.
“It got too much and I wanted a change.
“I’d [done a few jobs] in hospitality way back and it was always something that I’d wanted to do.”
With the co-backing of her partner Gary, Louise set about locating a premises for her first hospitality venture in her beloved west end.
By December 2019, Orka Artisan Café had taken shape and was ready to launch.
However, we all know what happened a few months after that.
“When we’d just really got going and found our feet, Covid hit in March,” Louise explains.
“By then, it was make or break time.
“We didn’t qualify for any government grants, so it was case of deciding whether to stay open and make it work or not.”
Having read through Government legislation to work out if the café could operate during lockdown, Louise decided to switch the café to a takeaway service only.
Sadly, this proved unpopular for some local businesses who went to extreme lengths to voice their opinions to Louise and her team.
“We got a lot of disgruntled businesses for deciding to stay open during lockdown,” Louise says.
“We had hate mail through the door saying that we were responsible for people dying, that we didn’t care and all these sorts of things.
“It wasn’t great, but at the same time we were busier than we’d ever been. We survived.”
Today, the café’s takeaway service remains strong, but it’s inside the café where Louise has been enjoying welcoming customers back.
“It feels like we’re back to that community feeling café now,” she says and at the heart of this community is Orka’s coffee.
The Orkney Roastery is where the café sources its signature blend and it certainly lives up to Louise’s “coffee snob” standards.
“I’ve went to so many places around the world to try coffee because I’m a complete nutter,” Louise laughs.
“I’d gone into The Orkney Roastery and their coffee was just fantastic – I couldn’t look past it.
“Euan from the roastery ended up coming down to Aberdeen and said that he’d make a blend for us.
“He roasts it, blends it and it comes to us here in the café within three days. It’s so fresh.
“Anyone that says our coffee isn’t good either doesn’t like coffee or they’re from a different café.
“Our coffee is good and we stand by that.”
As well as The Orkney Roastery, Orka also works with a wide range of suppliers in the north-east for its range of baked goods, including Gladstone Bakery in Peterhead and The Raw Scullery.
Working alongside and not against other local businesses is something that Louise feels is hugely important.
“I love the fact that we use very small businesses and that I can tell you where everything in the café has come from.” she says.
“I’ve taken a chance with the café, so I want to support others who’ve taken a chance [with their own businesses] as well.”
Making the magic happen at the café however is Louise’s small team of exuberant staff.
As well as keeping customers happy, they’re also helping to expand Orka’s online presence with TikTok videos.
“We have quite outrageous members of staff I have to say, but they’re all fun,” says Louise.
“My staff are young and they love a TikTok video which is quite funny.
We know our product is good in the café, but the overwhelming majority of reviews we receive are about how good our staff are.
“We’re incredibly lucky.”
Above all, it’s the friendly, welcoming atmosphere within Orka Artisan Café that Louise prides the most with her business.
Despite being something that she came into as a “keen amateur”, Louise has relished the challenge of building a reputation for her own hospitality business.
With her second venture in Ballater now also under way, things are continuing to look positive for the future ahead.
“I think I’ve learned more [here] than I’ve ever learned in any job,” she says.
“There’s a lot of competition, but my cheeky answer to that is ‘yeah, but we’re friendly’.
“It’s not that other cafés aren’t friendly too, but we genuinely care.
If you’re going to have a good coffee, you want to have a good time when you’re having it.
“We love hearing people’s stories and all our staff want to chat to our customers, which is a great deal of what it’s all about.
A round of questions with Louise Smart of Orka Artisan Café…
Most underrated drink?
A plain, solid espresso – the best drink there is.
If you were a drink, what would you be and why?
A cappuccino… a little bit frothy? I don’t know!
What’s in your drinks cabinet at home?
Champagne, always, and Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc.
Most unusual drink you’ve ever tried?
I tried this Indian tea that they pour from really great heights, I think it’s called Lasa tea. It was fantastic. I’ve also tried coffee that’s made with poo; the coffee beans are grown with poo and it’s the most expensive coffee you’ll ever drink. It’s a very refined taste.
Any secret tips of the drinks trade?
Just make good coffee. Our staff do try their best to make hearts and thistle patterns in coffees, but most people just appreciate good coffee.
Best food and drink pairing?
Really good Peterhead haddock, homemade coleslaw, homemade chips and an ice-cold glass of wine. It’s the best.
If you were stuck on a desert island, what three drinks would be there with you?
Water, Orka coffee and New Zealand sauvignon blanc.
You have to serve your favourite superhero or celebrity a drink. Who is it and what do you serve them?
I gave an espresso to HRH Princess Anne last week, does that count? She was raving about the coffee, which was great. HRH Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, is also due to visit soon.