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Scotland's Larder: Colin Ashby of Ashby's Fruit & Vegetables

When Covid struck, Colin Ashby and his wife Carla changed from the antiques trade to opening their fruit and vegetable store.

Published: March 2, 2022
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After quite a hectic couple of years, Colin Ashby and his wife, Carla, are now the proud owners of Ashby's fruit & veg shop in Partick.

But, as Colin says, "It was quite a journey getting here." As a young man, Colin worked in the antiques trade alongside his uncle before having a series of other jobs, the latest of which was as a petrol tank engineer.

He was made redundant from that role, so decided to open his own antiques shop.

Ashby's Fruit & Vegetable
Ashby's Fruit & Vegetables. Photo: John Devlin

Establishing this new venture, Ortega Vintage, proved an uphill struggle and he admits that just before the pandemic hit, "things were tight financially".

As a new business, they weren't eligible for the government furlough schemes and, to make matters worse, a couple of days before lockdown, the entire family went into self isolation when their youngest child developed some sniffles.

“We were all stuck at home scratching our heads, thinking our business was finished and asking ourselves what are we going to do. How are we going to make money?”

Stay home Stay Safe

Colin recalls. “However, when people were told to stay at home, suddenly everyone was looking for food to be delivered by supermarkets. "It was weeks before anyone could get a delivery slot, so I thought we might be able to turn this adversity into an opportunity.”

With four young children to look after, Colin had a simple but stark decision to make: pay the bills and struggle onward or roll the dice and invest in his new business idea.

He headed to the fruit and veg market. After all, he “still had the van and a few hundred quid"

On his first visit, he bought onions, tatties, cauliflower, tomatoes, apples and oranges – what anyone would want in a fruit-and veg box.

"I love broccoli, but that was the thing I couldn't get for my first week or two in business."

Ashby's Fruit & Vegetable
Sign of the times. Photo: John Devlin


In those first veg boxes, he added a free chocolate bar as a selling point which the customers loved.

He said: “It was a bit like the blitz spirit in the Second World War when the Red Cross boxes always came with some chocolate."

Luckily it all worked out, "and we paid the bills".

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Lockdown

Colin and his wife have not looked back since. “People were just amazed that someone was doing something during the lockdown because nothing was happening and everywhere was just dead."

Initially, they cleared a space in the garage and set up some packing tables to work out of home.

Carla posted adverts on Facebook, while Colin went to the market, folded and packed cardboard boxes and then delivered them all round Glasgow.

Even their eldest daughter, Maria, was roped in to help pack the produce, weighing out kilos of carrots to put into boxes.

Ashby's Fruit & Vegetable
Chillies. Photo: John Devlin



Colin says: “It all happened so quickly. I went to the market on Thursday and we made boxes up that day and started delivering that night and the next day, and then I went back to the market on Monday."

Within a week, they had even made a basic website, but he adds: “It was very much a joint venture. We were spending the family’s money. Carla and I both put our lockdown time into this project."

But soon Carla had to return to her part-time teaching post, which meant they also had to juggle childcare duties whilst trying to start this new business.

Fresh produce from the market. Photo: John Devlin



But within a month they managed to open their shop. Colin had seen a vacant store in the area.

Initially, the agent had not planned to put the place on the market because of lockdown. But Colin knew it was a perfect location because he knew the neighbourhood. Fortunately for him, it was even painted green.

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Past times

In the past the shop had been a drapers, and a fruit-and-veg shop. Colin tells me someone even told him that it had also been an antiques shop, and that a young Billy Connolly used to sit outside on the couches."

He giggles. "I don't now if there is any truth in that, but, as Billy Connolly would say, don't let the truth get in the way of a good story."

Ashby's Fruit & Vegetable
Colin Ashby. Photo: John Devlin



Yet another coincidence was that, when it was a florist shop, the owner had made his wife's wedding bouquet when the couple got married at St Peter's nearby. "

Keep calm and carry on

So, it has been a case of fortune favouring the brave. Colin says: "We were addressing a need in the middle of a crisis.

"I have never been someone who panics. I always try to stay calm. When I'm hit with crisis, it is better to think a way out of it.”

Despite leaving school early to work for his antiques-dealer uncle, he says: "I learned from him that, if you keep working hard, you will get something in the end. "I'm still working hard, and I'll be working hard until the day I die."

Stock on the shelves. Photo: John Devlin



He met Carla on a night out and says: "We are still together four kids later." One of the benefits of falling into the fruit-and-veg business is a bit of stability.

"You know that your bills are covered. "You have good days and bad days, but, generally speaking, you know what you are going to earn."

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Family fortunes


Also the business works around caring duties with their young family of four. Colin says: "The market opens at 2am, but, thankfully, I don't usually need to go then."

First, he does the nursery run in the morning before heading to the market. "It is still open and I can grab what I need and shove it in the van before getting back to the shop."

Ashby's Fruit & Vegetable
Weighing things up. Photo: John Devlin


Colin enjoys visiting the market because of the banter and lively atmosphere. They now also have full-time staff in the shop which means Colin can restock and make deliveries in the evening.

Since lockdown ended, they have seen trade drop off, but he says: “We have just adapted to that new level, and we are ticking over."

More in store

The shop has also expanded to sell wholefoods from Glasgow's green city wholefoods and local produce, Mossgiel milk, Freedom bakery bread and Corrie mains eggs, but online orders remain a vital part of the business.

Ashby's Fruit & Vegetable
Freedom Bakery Bread and Corrie Mains eggs. Photo: John Devlin



Their first basic website lasted about a month before being upgraded, with the help of Colin's sister. They are now able to sell items “as if you were shopping in Tesco. Our customers love how easy the site is to use”.

Fortunately, their four children are all healthy eaters and food waste from the shop is collected and composted by the council, but he says: "Sometimes we can end up with multiple berry packs in our fridge and we take them home for the kids and they will get a wee feast."

His other son, Sean, is also massive apple fan which he eats as a bedtime treat. Colin says: "It takes him from excited little boy to calm boy ready for bed."

Futureproof

Looking ahead, the couple hope to expand to a second shop, but only when their children are older.

Colin also wants to make further improvements to the existing shop. "I'm not happy with the racking outside. It doesn't look pretty enough."

Initially, the customers didn't mind that the shop looked a little ramshackle. "It still does a little bit, but slowly it is getting there."

Taking stock of the whole situation, he says: "I remember saying to my wife, if we can get to the end of the pandemic and we have got a business, then we are going to be in a much better place than we were before the pandemic hit."

And that is the way it has worked out.

Ashby's Fruit & Vegetable
Colin Ashby. Photo: John Devlin

Ashby's Fruit & Vegetables

77 Hyndland Street
Glasgow
G115PS

07553053028

Catriona is based in the Scottish Borders and works as part of the audiovisual team at the Scotsman but she reviews restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writes for Scotsman Food and Drink in her spare time.

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