WHAT will you be having for lunch next week? The usual tuna and sweetcorn sandwich rushed at your desk? Maybe a microwaved cream of tomato soup or a steak bake from Greggs?
It's fair to say the nation's fast food options are not what you'd call adventurous. It was frustration with this lack of choice – and the knowledge that it could be done so much better – that prompted Gavin Clark to action.
Born in Dumfries and Galloway, he comes from what he calls a “typical farming heritage". He has always loved food, though shies away from the foodie tag. “Before I was even ten, I'd always experiment with food. We'd find these little back street restaurants on holiday in France and I got right into mussels and snails and frogs' legs."
So when we meet (for lunch, naturally) at Martha's, the newest addition to Glasgow's cafe culture, there's not a cheese ploughman's in sight. We feast on a Noodledoodle salad (that's egg noodles, bean sprouts, broccoli, pak choi, crunchy veg, succulent chicken and miso dressing, £3.75), before dipping into The Legend (Heritage potato salad with hot smoked Loch Duart salmon, watercress, gherkins and yoghurt dressing, £4.15) and Super Pea In A Pickle (Ramsay's ham hough in a watercress, pea shoot and edamame bean salad with home-made piccalilli, £4.20).
Every dish on the menu – from the breakfasts to the Lebanese-style flatbread wraps to the hot mains such as Scotch lamb koftas and chipotle chicken – is made from scratch in the onsite kitchen. No additives are used, microwave is a four-letter word, and all the ingredients are sourced, as much as possible, locally.
But Clark – a keen runner and former competitive athlete – has gone one step further, recruiting nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton to come up with dishes that are low in saturated fat, calorie controlled and with balanced protein and carbs to avoid that post-lunch slump
“We didn't want to scare non-diety people," he says. “I'm not making any claims to be an absolute health food, we don't want to bang on about it. We just want something that's balanced. We're giving the customer the information they need to make a decision."
For all that, Clark's own background is about as far from food as it's possible to get. “I did civil engineering at Glasgow University," he says, “at the time when the whole nightclub, dance music scene took off and that was my first exposure to big brands. I realised after two years of civil engineering that it was actually brand marketing I wanted to get into."
He finished his degree then set up his own agency to promote DJs and nightclubs in Glasgow before being headhunted by a big London agency in 2000. It was during this time that he met his now wife Kate, and they made the joint decision that, if they were to start a family, they would move north.
Back in Glasgow, they were both frustrated by the lack of choice for lunch. That, along with the driving desire to work for themselves, led to the seed of an idea. “Being from a farming background, I hear it every time I go to visit my family – I get the doom and gloom, and it isn't right. In London everyone used to celebrate Buccleuch beef, Aberdeen Angus, Loch Fyne oysters. But not in Scotland."
Martha's was three years in the making, opening in November, not long after Mr and Mrs Clark welcomed baby Ellis into the world. Next on the agenda (for Clark at least) is the Glasgow half-marathon, then world domination. “This could be the British healthy, hearty, fast food chain. We've got our eye on another outlet in Glasgow, then it'll be Edinburgh, then Aberdeen or the north of England. We could potentially roll out to all the regions outside London. We'll tap into a really good chef in key cities (in Glasgow it's Alan Doig, formerly of Stravaigin), who will pull in their suppliers."
But why Martha's? “We needed something homely, something that encapsulated our ethos," explains Clark. “Saint Martha is the patron saint of dieticians and cooks, but there are different associations: Martha's vineyard, Martha Stewart ..."
For me, it's Martha and the Muffins. Maybe they should look at getting some of them on the menu too. Low-fat ones, obviously.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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