Greg Wright was working as a police officer with the Hobson City Police Department when he met his wife, Fiona. “I got off work one night, went home and was looking for someone to talk to,” he said. He logged onto a pen pal website where he met Fiona, who was a native and resident of Scotland. The two eventually exchanged phone numbers, and their long-distance relationship grew.
At the time, Fiona was working as a business analyst for British Gas, a utility company in the United Kingdom. When Hobson City closed its police department, she invited Greg to join her overseas.
“I’m an Air Force brat,” Greg said. “I’ve lived all over the United States and in Germany and Turkey.” He had no objection to relocating to another country. He moved to Scotland and found work as a security officer.
The two traveled frequently, back and forth, between their respective homes. During one of those visits to the States, they married in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
In April 2016, after Fiona took early retirement from her job, she and Greg decided to move to Alabama permanently. They settled in Cleburne County, and talked about possible ventures they could do together as a team.
“We considered opening a restaurant,” Fiona said. As an accomplished home cook and baker who “adapts my mum’s recipes,” she was intrigued by the idea of serving up food from her Scottish heritage. As far as she knew, no one around here served authentic Scottish cuisine.
But then one day Fiona learned that a restaurant in Georgia was serving Scottish fare. She went there to check it out, but discovered it was only regular sandwiches with Scottish titles. “Just because you name a sandwich Mary, Queen of Scots, doesn’t make it Scottish food,” she said, with a laugh.
Not knowing how well the real thing would go over in East Alabama made both Greg and Fiona hesitant about opening a restaurant.
“We thought it might be better if people could taste the food before we turned it into brick and mortar,” Greg explained.
That’s when the idea of a food truck began to take shape. The Thistle Café was born in May of this year. (The thistle flower is the national emblem of Scotland.)
The Thistle Café travels to parking lots and community events around Calhoun and Cleburne counties. “We look for locations, then call property owners to get permission to park our truck,” Greg said.
It’s just the two of them manning their café on wheels. “We’ve never done anything like this before, so there’s been a learning curve,” Fiona said. “Preparation is the key.”
They recently took part in a centennial celebration at Fort McClellan, where thousands of people were in attendance. “We sold clean out that day,” Greg said. “But it was lots of fun.”
Fiona’s authentic Scottish dishes include such things as cottage pie. “It’s similar to a shepherd’s pie,” she said, her voice carrying a lovely Scottish burr. “It consists of minced beef — what you call ground beef — and I use my own recipe adding tomatoes and herbs with vegetables and onions and cheesy mashed potatoes.”
It has proven to be a big hit with customers.
Fish and chips is another dish that has always been popular in the United Kingdom, and Fiona wanted to offer it here, too. “Cod is my mainstay,” she said, but the secret to her success is in the batter. “I don’t make up any of my fish in advance,” she said. “It’s made to order.”
Another of Fiona’s specialties is a traditional steak pie, which she describes as chunks of sirloin steak combined with gravy, carrots and peas, served with a pie crust on top. “We call this top crust steak pie,” she said.
In Scotland, tradition calls for families to gather on New Year’s Eve to enjoy a steak pie at the stroke of midnight. It is also a popular item to serve at weddings. “We’re catering a wedding next month,” she said. “And steak pie will be on the menu.”
You can find The Thistle Café in Anniston at upcoming downtown events such as Maker’s Market and Neewollah. The food truck can also be found outside 2nd & Charles bookstore in Oxford every Friday and Saturday during lunch hours, unless they have a pre-booked event.
For more information, take a look at their Facebook page or visit their website at thistlecafealabama.com.
Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.