If ever you’re in North Uist and fancy a bite to eat, be sure to call into the Wee Cottage Kitchen. Kitchen owners Màiri MacIntosh and Katriona Campbell spent their lockdown days walking on the beach and planning a new adventure. Suddenly, The Wee Cottage Kitchen was born!
In this article, Uist Beò caught up with Màiri MacIntosh on how the pair have worked to create their new business.
Màiri and Katriona had always talked about doing their own thing, but had never had the time to put their plan in action. However, with various Covid lockdowns they were given the rare opportunity to step back from life and not be busy!
‘We had a lot of thinking time over lockdown. So, I don’t know, one time Katriona and I were out for a walk and just and realised that with Covid we had plenty of time to do the paperwork and get set up.
Also, the thought of uni didn’t really appeal to me anymore after two years, so the opportunity to start my own business sounded a bit more exciting. We took the risk and started from there and then the opportunity came to buy a van and that was the start of it. We opened the Wee Cottage Kitchen in 2021.
Màiri had completed two years of a sports therapy course in Glasgow College just as Covid kicked off, and as she mentions, didn’t fancy going back to Uni for another four years. In March time 2020 she moved home giving her not much to do but go walking and thinking.
As the girls were ready to open their Wee Cottage Kitchen, Covid restrictions allowed for businesses to offer a takeaway service which was perfect for them from the new van. Like all businesses there was risk involved. Since there would be a very minimal tourist trade at the time, there was also the fear of another impending lockdown and they weren’t sure if their idea would survive for long. However, they kept going with their ambition and the Wee Cottage Kitchen is now looking to open for its fourth season in 2024.
Obviously, the first year there were a lot of different emotions. Happy tears most of the time, but you get some points where it gets a bit overwhelming. We were still quite young girls, I was 21 and Katriona was 27. It was a risky move, but it was a good move. It’s been successful so far and we’ve had lots of returning customers, lots of locals are happy to see us.
We’ve finished our third year. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s definitely been a risk worth taking!
There’s a lot of responsibility. You’ve got so many different things to think about, especially with food. You go home and start prepping for the next day and even when you go to bed, you can’t switch off, you can’t sleep and you’re up early the next day. It’s quite a big thing and you can’t just rock up with ‘something’.
In the first year of The Wee Cottage Kitchen, Màiri and Katriona worked six days a week for five months. As well as coming up with their menu, Katriona has been taking trendy photographs of their culinary delights. Slowly though, over these years, they’ve added more people to their weekly rota and now have 3 staff working with them which adds its own pressures.
It’s good to be building our team and be able to offer people the opportunity for jobs in the local community.
Obviously, it’s quite a lot of pressure sometimes, because it’s your business and you’re responsible for other people’s income, so you don’t want to fail.
The Wee Cottage Kitchen van lives permanently in one spot in North Uist and is open from April until October, during the day. As the covid lockdown came, so did other opportunities. We’ve seen a rise in people working from home, allowing for some of our people to move back to their Uist home and we’ve also seen some other food trucks pop up over the islands. Màiri mentions that:
It’s great. We’re all spread over the place, so we don’t class that as a competition thing. We all support each other. It’s good to have that variety because before COVID there were no food trucks in the area, so yeah, it’s good to offer that option to the locals. There’s plenty of space for everybody.
The girls have had the support of their families in setting up the business. Màiri’s mother and father help out behind the scenes with shelling the catch of the day food prep and the odd bit of handyman work. Màiri’s brother, Angus, who is also Katriona’s partner (previously featured on Uist Beò) is a local fisherman. Angus supplies the shellfish featured on the menu, as does Màiri’s uncle Hector.
It’s very much a family run based business. We couldn’t really do it without their help.
Locals have also been very supportive by frequently visiting. It’s made a real difference. There’s lots of people that come from South Uist on a regular basis, which is always nice to see because they’ve travelled to come. There’s also lots of tourists that have come and returned from when we first opened. It’s always nice to see returning customers and we catch up with them as well. It’s good to make these connections.
Food research may be the best research out there and the girls haven’t wasted any time in trying out some new dishes and bakes.
But we’re both just very passionate about eating local produce. So our menu is seafood and local produce based. We grew up with seafood and keeping everything local and fresh was our main priority. We have scallops, prawns, lobster and crab.
We wanted to have a simple menu that was appealing to everyone, but if you’re not a seafood lover, then there were plenty of other options, like toasties, soup and sandwiches, tea, coffee’s and milkshakes – we’ve got a good selection. We wanted to keep with a ‘smallish’ menu, but with something for everyone.
I’m a sweet tooth person. So I like baking and making cakes. So, I usually go anywhere and everywhere with cakes. I like the Mary Berry and Jane Patisserie recipes and when I go to Glasgow, there’s quite a few nice bakery shops I go to.
It’s good to go to other places and see what they have so we can maybe do something different on our menu.
The girls of the Wee Cottage Kitchen have also had support from Business Gateway in buying kitchen equipment for their van and one day hope to expand to bigger premises in Solas. With planning issues, sometimes things aren’t always plain sailing.
Got the plan, but then it’s actually getting it going. That’s the pain, sometimes you have to be very patient. But anyway, we’ll get there. But again, patience is key.
Màiri encourages anyone out there to have a go and try their own business ideas. With a supportive community and a bit of help from your friends and family, anything can be possible!
You can’t just stay in your comfort zone all the time. You need to push yourself. It’s grown my confidence, even as a person doing that thing. Having this kind of business gets you out there, it gets you chatting to different people that you wouldn’t usually chat to.
You can always be your own worst enemy. You can put yourself down and you can think the worst, but you just have to have that positive aspect with things and just push on. If you obviously worry about it all the time, then of course there’s going to be wee things that slip up. But if you have the positive aspect and a positive view on things, you can do the best that you can do and it is what it is.