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Business / Cunningsburgh opportunity was too good to pass up, say new cafe owners

Strong community support makes for busy first fortnight at The Kitchen Table

The Kitchen Table owners Laura Farquhar and Emma Williamson. Photo: Shetland News

THE OWNERS of a new café in Cunningsburgh say that trade has “far surpassed our expectations” during their first fortnight in business.

Emma Williamson and Laura Farquhar opened The Kitchen Table, which shares a building with Mackenzie’s Farm Shop, on Monday 8 November and have been rushed off their feet since, serving up over 60 breakfasts in one morning alone.

This week has seen some disruption as several staff, including Laura herself, have had to isolate while awaiting Covid-19 test results. But they ascribe their ability to absorb that challenge – and the many others trials of running a hospitality business – to a “solutions not problems” mindset.

The two have been friends for many years and had often talked of starting a business together. Their plans for The Kitchen Table, however, have been pulled together in short order after seeing the lease on the premises advertised locally.

“Me and Emma have always had this thing,” Laura says, “we’ve always had a dream of doing something, possibly converting a horse box or an old trailer and doing cake or coffee, a food truck, with Emma’s amazing cakes and me making coffee.

“This has all come about in about eight weeks from start to finish. As soon as Kenneth and Hazel [Mackenzie] put out the lease, we shared the link to one another and thought, what an opportunity for a ready-to-go establishment. We thought we couldn’t let the possibility go by…”

A breakfast smoothie bowl. Photo: The Kitchen Table.

A couple of months on and they find themselves running a six-day-a-week operation employing 10 full and part-time staff, along with casual weekend helpers.

The division of labour splits naturally, with Emma – who has built up a formidable baking reputation running an honesty cake fridge in their home village of Hoswick – taking charge in the kitchen and Laura managing the front-of-house operation.

They have developed a menu to fit the premises – serving cooked breakfasts and hot lunch specials alongside soup, sandwiches, cakes and hot drinks, aiming to cover a broad variety of tastes ranging from trademark bacon rolls to smoothie bowls and charcuterie boards.

Lunch specials include a Kitchen Table burger using Aithsetter beef, local red onion relish and brioche buns developed by Sandwick Baking Company specifically for the cafe.

The bakery has been “amazing”, Emma says, also developing a Mediterranean-style bread to go with a pesto, mozzarella and salami melt, while Blydoit fish is used in fish finger sandwiches on the lunch menu.

Starting on 5 December they will offer a fortnightly Sunday afternoon carvery and they have also taken on some private evening bookings over the Christmas period, while in the new year they may seek an alcohol licence.

Charcuterie boards feature among the lunchtime offerings. Photo: The Kitchen Table.

“We don’t want to run before we can walk – we want to make sure we do everything well first,” Laura, who is 34 and has four children with her husband Andrew, the youngest not yet 2.

She and Emma, 38 and a mother of two, are both hugely grateful to their families and friends for supporting them in getting everything set up. With the Covid-related glitches of the past few days, friends have been “jumping in to help us” just as they did during the redecorating phase.

Andrew has been in working on his days off, having also made the sleek new wooden table tops and benches, while Emma’s husband Tommy installed lighting and helped put the furniture together. Both also have “a wealth of experience we can draw on” in terms of running your own business.

They felt it was important to develop something that fitted with the Mackenzies’ farm shop vision and to “work in partnership with that”, including using a lot of their produce within the menu.

A new paint job and a few nice rustic touches, coupled with the natural friendliness of Laura, Emma and their staff, have already given The Kitchen Table a warm, welcoming feel. It is a space that could easily function as an evening eatery as well as a daytime food destination.

After opening “with a bang” on their first Monday, the pair are delighted with how things are going so far.

“Generally this time of year hospitality can be quite quiet – they say summers pay for your winters – but opening this time of year we’ve been really lucky and it has far surpassed our expectations in terms of footfall,” Laura says.

“We’ve been really fortunate we’ve had so much support, not just from our local community but I would say the wider community as well. Folk have been so kind, and they’ve really come from far and wide.”