Chris Heather Q&A: Getting to know the man behind Dundee’s beloved doughnut van

Chris Heather and his wife Melodie started Heather Street Food in lockdown with four wheels and a doughnut-covered dream.

In the two years since, the Waterfront attraction became a draw for Dundee tourists and locals alike, with a summer seating terrace, specialist coffees and seasonal cocktails adding fun new branches to what was a basic business idea.

So to kick off the new year, I got to know the man behind the wheel of one of Dundee’s best loved vans.

‘Dundee is the type of place that gets behind locals who take a punt’

You own one of the most beloved street food vans in Tayside – what inspired you to make it a van instead of a café?

We got going in lockdown when cafes were closed and takeaways were allowed to open. I always loved street food vans so opening my own was a dream come true.

Why do you think it’s been so successful?

We’re so lucky with how it’s worked out. Part of it is definitely the location beside the river at V&A Dundee.

I think the style of the vans and the products we sell is attractive to people too. A lot of it was also being in the right place at the right time.

Being a young local couple helped because Dundee is the type of place that gets behind locals who take a punt on something.

Chris Heather and Melodie Paterson run Heather Street Food. Image: Chris Heather.

How do you account for days where you’re rained or snowed out?

When I was new to the business the rainy days were scary.

You sometimes look at the forecast and it says it’s going to be raining for 10 days in a row. I’ve learned to accept it. You can’t control the weather.

I get along well with Owen from Jannetta’s and he gave me great advice on that, he said you get good days and you get bad days and at the end of the year you just have to hope there are more good days than bad days.

Any new exciting plans ahead for 2023?

We have a new baby daughter Lily who is so much fun we can’t wait to see her develop as the year goes on.

What is the secret ingredient to the doughnuts?!

That’s too precious a secret to share!

What I can say is that we do cook them fresh in sunflower oil rather than vegetable or rapeseed oil which keeps them nice and light and fluffy.

It’s a more expensive way to do it but it’s so worth it.

What would you have done if you hadn’t done the job you’re doing now?

I always wanted to be a writer so I’d most likely be spending my days in a café, hunched over a notebook trying to write the next Da Vinci Code, but failing miserably.

The people of Dundee braved the cold conditions to get their doughnuts and coffee. Image: Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson.

Where in the world are you happiest?

Having a rare morning off in the holidays and staying in bed with my wife Melodie and the kids and having a laugh as a family.

Or at the end of one of those crazy summer days when everything’s sold out!

Favourite part of Scotland to explore?

The west coast around Torridon is stunning. When you get up to that part of Scotland it’s like being in another country altogether.

‘Local business people have been really inspiring’

Last book you read?

I just finished a great book called 1927 by Bill Bryson. It tells the story of the most spectacular year in American history before the market crashed and the Great Depression set in.

Music you listen to in the car?

My car stereo is broken which is for the best because I have an alarmingly random taste in music.

I love South African amapiano music and Nigerian afrobeats but also listen to a lot of classical music.

I had to study music composition as part of my degree and loved getting to know all the classical composers. The fact Mozart’s music has been around for 250 years is testament to his genius.

Who inspires you?

Actually local business people have been really inspiring – EH9, Luigi’s Pizza, Jim’s Dehli Club, Pacamara, Jannetta’s, The Bach.

Local businesses run by really passionate people give me energy.

Doughnuts from Heathers Street Food are popular with Dundee locals.

Your house is on fire – what one item do you save?

My secret doughnut recipe book.

First thing you’d do if you won £1 million?

Hire Ronaldo to work in the van for two weeks wages.

If you could rule for a day, what would be the first thing you would do?

Reverse Brexit and have Scotland automatically qualify for every World Cup.

Favourite holiday destination?

My dad took my brother and me to Fiji once and it looked like a postcard. It had coconut trees, white sand beaches, coral reefs and crystal clear waters.

I’d love to take my own children to snorkel there one day.

‘My friends dared me to do stand up comedy’

What makes you happy?

Hot summer days. I loved the heatwave we had this summer.

What makes you sad?

Those grey sleety days in January where the cold gets into your bones.

Do you believe in love at first sight?

I’d love to say yes, but based on my experience, love has its roots in something deeper than surface appearance.

What was the first album you ever bought?

Westlife back when they were called Westside. I got it in Asda Milton on cassette.

What is the best advice you have ever received, and who did it come from?

My grandad told me to always stay humble because you meet the same people on the way down as you do on the way up.

What do you do to unwind?

A hot bath and a candle.

Biggest regret?

Not buying stock in Apple.

The outdoor seating at Heathers Street Food is busy over the summer months. Image: DC Thomson.

What or who are you proudest of?

My son and my daughter. They always make me laugh.

If you could turn back the clock what one thing would you change?

I bet on France to win the World Cup…

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t worry about what other people think and don’t worry about taking risks.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?

Stand up comedy. When I was at uni in New Zealand my friends dared me to do stand up comedy at an open mic night.

I said I’d give it a go and ended up taking it really seriously. I wrote a six minute set and rehearsed it over a couple of weeks.

When I turned up to the open mic night and got on stage to perform to the audience, I completely froze then ended up mumbling my way through my set. There were more coughs from the audience than laughs.

It was excruciating.

Could you save someone’s life if they were dying in the street?

If they were dying of starvation I could slip them a doughnut, but for anything else, no.

What’s your motto?

I don’t have a motto but if I did it would probably be one of Sadhguru’s: “The most beautiful moments in life are moments when you are expressing your joy, not seeking it.”

Next week: We get to know Chris’ brother Alistair Heather, well-known Scots language activist and Courier columnist. 

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Lifestyle – The Courier Dundee