Our co-owner Vikki Wood shares her thoughts on independent restaurants, and their impact on the local community and economy.
It’s a hot topic amongst the independent restaurant owners of Scotland - “how do we raise the profile of our independent restaurant over the big chains with big spending power and budgets?”. In particular this has been discussed by independent restaurant owners in Edinburgh with the recent influx of big chains, renting big spaces within a fairly short space of time. After speaking to my family and friends about this topic it appears it’s not at the forefront of most people’s minds when choosing where to eat that weekend. They hadn’t thought there was any local impact of where they spend their hard-earned cash.
It’s a much bigger question than just choosing what kind of cuisine you fancy and using a booking app to book your next meal. When you support a local, independent restaurant you are supporting local suppliers and producers too. There are fundamental differences to your evening if you choose a big chain over a small, independent restaurant. Some of these differences I hadn’t even thought of myself until I opened my own business.
Firstly, I would say that when you choose to shop, dine or support your independent retailer or restaurant you are helping to shape the neighbourhood you want to live in, not just now, but in the future. Do we want to live in a homogenized world? Do we want our village, town or city to be just like every other place in the country? When we support independent restaurants or shops we are investing in the community around us. I know I want to live in an area with uniqueness, where I can shop in a one-of-a-kind business that distinguishes itself from others.
I also want to reduce environmental impact by supporting local businesses who, on average, use less transportation (thus less pollution and congestions on the roads) to receive their goods and produce, for the good of myself and my kids.
Local businesses are by far the largest employers nationally, and I want to support the people who work in these businesses. With a little bit of encouragement, local talent working in local business could be the local entrepreneurs of the near future. At present, local employees spend the vast majority of their money locally (estimated by the Federation of Small Businesses to be 70p in every £1) which will have a positive knock-on effect to my local economy.
I hadn’t given it much thought before, but I’d rather not support businesses who have a centralised ordering system, probably based around London, where no local suppliers or producers are gaining any business with them. With this system, little money goes back into the local economy. Independent restaurants take time to find the right person for the job, invest heavily in staff training. We know the importance of a warm welcome, getting to know the regulars, and relish meeting new diners. We also know our offerings, giving some inside info on the local area and places not to miss. Generally just going the extra mile!
I looked at our list of suppliers and producers for The Wee Restaurants. We always strive to support local, small producers and suppliers. We understand the provenance of our food, and can discuss with our guests, all evening if you want us to, our beef, our wine, our oatcakes, our fish. I’m sure you’d rather be chatting to your dining companions, but you only need to ask! It all adds to the uniqueness of a night out when you’ve chosen an independent restaurant.
A lot of our suppliers are small, local, family-run independent businesses themselves. So when someone dines independently they aren’t just supporting the restaurant owners and staff - it goes much deeper. I’ll give you two examples of this, although I could give you several. We have sourced and are now using Your Piece Baking Company in North Fife to provide Porridge Oatcakes for our cheese board. Not only are they absolutely delicious, they are a very small family-run company which operates with only 3 staff. The oats they use for these delicious oatcakes come only from the fields of Fife and are farmed by local farmers.
We also use James F Kidd & Sons of Edinburgh to supply our crockery, cutlery and glassware. A slightly bigger local employer than Your Piece Baking Company with 42 local people employed. They have provided us with a great service over the last 12 years. We have built up a great rapport with their staff that cannot help enough when we need them. Local businesses like Kidd’s aren’t getting any of the business from the new chains popping up all over Edinburgh. The chains don’t use local suppliers but use centralised suppliers for their crockery.
Here's a, not exhaustive but pretty comprehensive, list of producers and suppliers we use so you can get the gist of how far-reaching for the local economy it is when you choose to dine independently. If you look at these independent, and mostly family-run businesses, you can imagine just how many people they are in turn supporting locally down the line.
Hendersons Meats, Glenrothes
David Lowire Fish Merchants, St Monans
Iberico Foods, Stirling
L’art Du Vin, Charlestown, Fife
Pillars of Hercules, Falkland
Great Oil Olive Oil, Kirkcaldy
East Coast Cured, Edinburgh
Iain Mellis Cheese, Edinburgh
Your Piece Baking Company, Fife
James F Kidd & Sons, Edinburgh
Caroll’s Heritage Potatoes, Cornhill -on-Tweed
Edinburgh Gin, formerly Inverkeithing
Harris Gin, Isle of Harris
Braehead Foods, Ayrshire
Edinburgh Beer Factory Paolozzi Lager, Edinburgh
Mitchell MacGregor Public Relations, Edinburgh
In total 14 out of 15 of these companies are family run, local and amongst them employ over 220 people. This is not including the two big companies who regularly supply both restaurants, Campbell’s Fine Meats and Graham’s Dairies who employ many more people in Scotland, all spending money in their local communities.
If you want your local community to be a vibrant, diverse place to live and work, it’s always worth a second thought to dine with, shop with, spend with, and enjoy independent businesses, enabling them to be there for many years to come. Whilst there may be a lot of chains opening in Edinburgh just now, luckily there are independents opening all the time too. Get out there and give them a try knowing you are supporting not just the restaurateurs and their staff, but so much more. It takes you to start a trend!