"They couldn't go back to the 45p can of Tesco chickpeas". We speak to the people behind a new wave of Scottish delicatessens

The last year has seen an explosion of delis, grocers and urban farm shops

By Gaby Soutar
Thursday, 20th May 2021, 4:45 pm

It seems like mini Valvona & Crollas are popping up all over the place.

In Scotland, there’s something rather exciting happening on the olive, cheese, charcuterie and wine front.

Over the past year or so, we’ve noticed a rise in the amount of delis, grocers and specialty food shops.

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There are Edinburgh’s newest additions The Bear’s Larder and City Farmshop, both of which opened this year and are classed under the new genre “urban farm shop”.

Owners of The Bear’s Larder, Kit Binnie, 33, and Tim Henshaw, 35, left their jobs in online brands and stage management for London’s West End to open their Bruntsfield venue. It sells fruit and veg, as well as cakes, Ortiz sardines, The Edinburgh Honey Co wares and other produce.

Their colourful tins and jars are presented on old-fashioned grocers shelves, there are bags of tatties and a set of vintage scales that measure in ounces.

There’s also a new shop, WineKraft, from the team behind Stockbridge’s wine bar Good Brothers, which specialises in its namesake, but also offers a line of deli-style groceries.

Caroline Walsh of Archipelago Provisions

Twelve Triangles launched a grocers on Easter Road during lockdown, while Elliott’s opened a shop, selling jam and other beautifully curated goodies, right next door to their original cafe.

Also, Root-to-Market - a venture from Edinburgh restaurant Fhior - is continuing with its online presence and extending its delivery area beyond lockdown.

Among many others, in Glasgow there’s Starter Culture and the lucky village of Dunlop has the lovely Idle Hands Shop & Bakery.

Of course, many of these launches were borne from necessity, to support established businesses and help producers survive the last year.

Hayley and Emily of Olive Alexanders

However, it seems that people are quite enthusiastic about eschewing Waitrose in favour of buying gourmand fancies at a small independent shop.

Caroline Walsh 45, of Edinburgh’s Archipelago Provisions, opened in the thick of lockdown.

“I had been wanting to set up a provisions/grocery store for about two years and 23C Dundas Street came up. It wasn’t the best of timing but also too good a spot to pass me by”, says Walsh, who also owns Archipelago Bakery at number 39. “For a number of years I felt that the New Town lacked a good foodie shop where you could buy quality goods from Spain, Italy, Greece and France, and things that I find hard to get hold of like sherry vinegar or a nice jar of crunchy honey mustard”.

She says that the idea of the 15-minute city, where everything you need is within a short walk or cycle from your home, is going to take off.

The bread shelves at Idle Hands

This eco-friendly concept of “hyper-proximity” was part of the election campaign of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, though was pioneered by scientist Carlos Moreno.

Walsh has also noticed that people wanted a friendly and personal experience during lockdown, rather than an anonymous one.

“So many other shops were closed and going to a small specialist shop became a highlight of customers’ day”, she says.

Her regulars are also very interested in buying organic produce and will happily pay for quality. They love her Stornoway black pudding sausage rolls, dark chocolate, anything containing truffles and her Perello Chickpeas.

“Once they tried the good stuff they felt they couldn't go back to the slightly inferior 45p tins of chickpeas from Tesco,” says Walsh.

All these new shops and delis are full of delicious things and, thus, equally cool.

Idle Hands interior

However, the hippest kids must be Hayley Fisher, 30, and Emily Hailstones, 26, who own Aberdeen’s Olive Alexanders.

Before launching their business, Emily was a chef at Edinburgh restaurant The Little Chartroom and Hayley was a forensic artist, who reconstructed the faces on skulls found on archaeological digs.

They’re currently online only, though operating regular Aberdeen pop-ups at Bar 99 and the Backyard Beach Collective.

Their logo is a pin-up girl and their wares include Hebridean Blue, charcuterie, Galloway chutney and San Marzano tomatoes.

“Emily had always dreamed of owning a delicatessen and when life halted last year, it gave us an opportunity to reconsider our careers,” says Hayley, who says that the shop is named after Emily’s grandparents. “The reception has been incredibly encouraging. We believe Aberdeen deserves the finer things. We currently offer a selection of fine cheeses, cured meats, unique wines and provisions. As we grow, we would love to explore making our own cured meats and larder goods. Watch this space”.

This duo are also hoping to bag a brick and mortar premises sometime in the Summer.

The response is sure to be positive, as it has been in the town of Dunlop, where Idle Hands set up less than a year before lockdown.

“The reaction to our little shop has been incredible”, says Morven Kerr, 46, who owns the shop with Piero Landi, 46. “Much better than we could ever have imagined. We thought we'd have trouble paying the rent but we open to a queue every day, with people coming from across the west of Scotland. Although we can't have lots of customers back in the shop at one time at the moment, we're told the queue is a great place to socialise and discuss what to buy”.

Their customers aren’t looking for the basics, like bread or bananas. They want the fancy stuff, presumably to provide succour in a horrible year.

“The deli products that sell best are really nice quality cured meats; smoked duck from Dorset, wild boar salami from Tuscany and smoked beef from Spain”, says Kerr, who used to work in fashion. “That’s as well as our own asparagus tarts, harissa-topped hummus and anything containing truffles whether that’s Pecorino, Torres crisps, honey or pesto”.

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Archipelago Provisions interior