Sustainable Champions: The Wildcat Cafe

In the first of the Indy Coffee Guide x KeepCup Sustainable Champions series we talk to Deanna Laforet, owner of The Wildcat Cafe in Fort William, Scotland and discover how they’re changing the scene in their area

Give us the low-down on The Wildcat Cafe

We’re a community focused vegan cafe and speciality coffee shop. We only use plant-based milk (which our customers love) and around 95 per cent of the ingredients we use are organic. As well as the food and drink in the cafe, we have a small wholefoods shop with plastic-free food hoppers and offer the cafe space (for free) for community events.  

Why open an eco cafe?

An ambition to stop animal exploitation, to make a difference to the environment and to provide ‘real food’ and – previously unavailable – speciality coffee in Fort William.

My partner Stephen and I started exploring speciality coffee when we lived in London and worked at an environmentally focused cafe. We had no intention to open our own place but after we moved to the Highlands and became vegan, we wanted to bring speciality coffee to the area and spread the word about veganism and conscientious consumption.

From the outset we set ourselves a few important rules:

  • To do everything to the best of our ability and give a great impression of vegan food and drink.
  • To never use animal products in the cafe.
  • As far as possible, to only use ethical and organic ingredients which have the lowest environmental impact.
  • Strive to leave the world and our local area a better place and to consider staff, customers and suppliers in all of our decisions. 
Image @AmeliaClaudia

How difficult has it been to walk the walk?

The biggest issue has been getting people to understand the link between climate change, environmental issues and animal agriculture.

We don’t want to preach, we just want to serve delicious food and drink which takes this into consideration. Many of our customers understand this but some don’t, and it can be hard to encourage people to give us a try when we don’t serve ‘proper milk’ or cheese toasties.

The disposable cup ban was another issue. It’s second nature to remember a carrier bag when you go shopping these days, but we’re still not quite there with coffee cups. Most of our customers love that we’ve banned single-use cups, but some are frustrated by the inconvenience (although they can borrow a mug if they return it). Ideally, a couple of other local businesses will get on board so it becomes the norm. That said, it’s rewarding to be leading the change here.

Can speciality coffee and the sustainable movement grow together?

I think they can and must – sustainability means being able to continue into the future. If we don’t combat climate change we won’t have coffee plants.

A lot of people in the speciality coffee industry really care about the ethics and sustainability of coffee which is crucial to bringing the two together – this gives speciality businesses the opportunity to be ahead of the curve.

As small businesses, coffee shops can adapt and change the way they do things far more quickly than chains. Our customers respond well to green initiatives when framed positively, but we need to keep learning and improving.

KeepCup has a vision of a disposable-cup free world by 2023. How can that vision be made a reality?

That’s an exciting vision and we hope it’s achieved. However, like KeepCup, we don’t want to see people investing in a reusable cup only to throw it away or use it once and then keep it in a cupboard.

We began by charging 10p for disposable cups, but this made zero difference. People just paid the fee. We need to remove disposable cups as an option altogether and we need to do it together as an industry and as communities.

If one business in a city bans single-use cups, they’re the odd one out, customers may go elsewhere and sales are lost. If 20 or 30 coffee shops do it simultaneously – even for a 6 month trial – it will have a huge effect. We need to challenge the norm.

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