Owner and head chef, Jill, started her career at the age of 16, training at the Seafield Arms Hotel in Cullen as a chef, while also studying hospitality at college. During this time, she won Student Chef of the Year in both 2008 and 2009 in the Spirit of Speyside Chef Competition.
After the closure of the Seafield Arms in 2011, Jill made her first big leap into realising her dream of owning her own restaurant one day. Small and humble beginnings saw the opening of Portsoy Coffee Shop & Bistro, where she built up a good reputation for her quality of food within the local community. In early 2020, the opportunity arose to take that dream to the next level, with the St John The Baptist Episcopal Church coming up for sale. The venue was the perfect size and location, and the wheels were swiftly put in motion with the support of her family.
Built by James Ross in 1840, this Episcopal church overlooks Seafield Terrace/Street, the main road through Portsoy. Built in granite and whinstone rubble, with accents of contrasting yellow ashlar sandstone, the exterior features striking gothic style detailing.
Inside, the eye is immediately drawn to the large stained glass window. Untouched since 1840, it serves as a memorial mural to the Wilson family, who served the Earls of Seafield as factors. Each of the 3 window panels contain inscriptions, dedicated to the memory of Alexander Wilson (1st Lieutenant Royal Marines, who saw action at the 3rd Battle of Ushant in June 1794) and his two sons, Edward and Fleetwood. It was erected by Ann Wilson or Murray, daughter and sister to the aforementioned, and widow of Rev. James Murray.
The church closed its doors as an active place of worship in 2016.
The whole renovation process took two and a half years to complete, with the contribution and enjoyment of the family. Jill's dad, David Urquhart of Urquhart Joinery Services, oversaw the project along side Jill to turn vision into reality. Using local trades people to restore the building, the original stonework and beautiful stained glass window were brought back to life, to create a wonderful venue for Portsoy and the surrounding area. The original spire tower bell also sits proudly inside as a decoration.
We came up with the name 'Aspire' as a family, to reflect Jill's dreams and aspirations of opening her own restaurant. It also ties into the style and architecture of the kirk, for a quirky double entendre.