When busy mums, Karen Woodhouse and Jane Hodgson, decided to deliver veg boxes 21 years ago, they had no idea their healthy venture would lead to a thriving deli in Aberdeenshire.
The hard working pair have weathered the storm of recessions and a pandemic, and are still doing a roaring trade at Food for Thought Deli in New Deer.
From speciality cheeses to something that bit special for lunch, the deli is the go to place, and even serves up wedding cakes with a difference.
If you’d rather swap Victoria sponge for tiers of, yes you’ve guessed it, cheese, Karen and Jane will be only too happy to oblige.
But despite their success, they remain humble and believe they have both finally found their niche, or maybe quiche, in life.
“We met through our children, we’ve been working together since 2000,” said Karen.
“Jane has a degree in zoology and also worked in computing. I did lots of things, from the hotel industry to recruitment.
“It all started when we offered veg boxes, and half a dozen friends gave us a go.
“We started going to markets and as our children grew older, we knew we eventually wanted to open a shop together.
“We actually thought we could grow the produce for the veg boxes ourselves, but we had lots of failed crops.
“A farmer in the village grew the basis and as time went on, we found other suppliers.”
Food for Thought finally opened in 2006, having been converted from a former hairdressers.
Karen and Jane have stayed true to their roots with fresh veg and fruit still on offer.
But their real passion is cheese, with around 35 cheeses available on the well stocked deli counter.
“We have lots of deli items such as olives and salami, and we also do dried goods including oatcakes,” said Karen.
“Then there’s wine, beer and chocolate.
“We’ve still can’t believe how much time has passed sometimes, or how much we’ve grown.
We both love food, we were brought up with good food and it can be difficult to find around here, especially as supermarkets don’t really stock anything which isn’t pre-packaged.”
Although Karen and Jane try to stock cheese from Scottish producers, it can be a challenge to find producers in the north-east.
“We have a supplier in Scotland, but a lot of our cheese comes from Kent,” said Karen.
“There’s not many local cheesemakers left. I think with all the environmental health rules, a lot of people just stopped.
“We do try to stock as many Scottish cheeses as we can, and we like a balance between soft and hard cheeses, alongside continental.
“Some people come in and they are so nervous about buying anything different. We’ve converted a fair few people now.
A chap once came in and asked for cracker barrel, which was a popular cheese when I was young. Now, he buys French cheese.”
Food For Thought initially closed when lockdown was first announced, and Karen and Jane decided to focus on the delivery side.
They soon discovered that their produce was even more in demand.
“We normally deliver around 60 veg boxes a week,” said Karen.
“We soon discovered that we were delivering around 200 boxes. It was all a bit crazy.
“We don’t venture into Aberdeen city because we don’t have the man power.
“But we deliver to all the villages across Aberdeenshire.”
Sandwiches to take away have also proved a hit. And although the most popular filling choices might be seen as conservative, there’s something rather tasty about tradition.
“I’d say the favourites are ham and roast beef,” said Karen.
“I love getting to know everybody who comes in, and we also love working for ourselves.
“It’s crazy hard work, and of course we sometimes wonder why we do it.
“We don’t give up easily though.
Just after we opened, we did really well. Then the oil recession hit and we could have said, right, we’ll just give up.
“We’re getting on a bit, but we can’t think of life without the shop.”
Karen and Jane have also found that Covid has changed people’s shopping habits for the better.
“People are much more into shopping local now, which is great,” said Karen.
“We just hope it lasts.
“I think the food scene in Aberdeenshire is starting to get a bit better.
“When we used to attend markets, sometimes we’d be the only food producers there.
I really hope the next generation continues in pushing good food.”
Food for Thought does its bit to help support fellow local independent businesses, and its shelves are well stocked with everything from OLA Oils to Auchmaliddie beef.
“We stock bread from The Vegan Bay Baker, and it’s absolutely gorgeous,” said Karen.
“I remember when we were all sat round the kitchen table, and we were trying to come up with a name.
“I don’t even know where Food For Thought came from.
“But it just felt right for us, it stuck,
“It really does feel like we’ve both found our niche at last, we wouldn’t want to do anything else.
“If you had told me at 18 that I’d be working in a food shop, I wouldn’t have believed you.
“But I am so glad I am.”
You can find Food for Thought on Facebook at Food For Thought Deli New Deer
A round of questions with Karen Woodhouse
What is the best cheese and wine pairing?
A good red Spanish wine, Piqueras, paired with xashel blue which is a a creamy blue Irish cheese.
They really compliment each other because the fruity red brings out the strength of the blue cheese.
If you could only take one cheese to a desert island, what would you select?
Jane would go for Manchego and I’d opt for Vacherousse d’Argental. That would do us.
If you had to serve a famous person, what would you select for them?
The most expensive bottle of wine we have. No, a good chunk of cheese and a nice chutney. I’d go for St Andrews cheddar with lovely crusty bread from The Vegan Bay Baker, and a jar of poachers pickle.
What’s a staple in your cupboards at home?
Olive oil, perfect for dunking bread into. Sea salt, good ground crushed peppercorns, and anchovies for putting into pasta.
Oh, and a jar of flame roasted red and yellow peppers.