Each week, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Shan Tunsley, owner of West Coast Delicatessan, in Ullapool.
How and why did you start in business?
Born into a frenetic, multicultural family in London, mealtimes were always exciting events. They would last for hours, with debates turning into battles, everyone gesticulating frantically as we devoured cheeses, olives and, for children, watered-down red wine.
I also had a childhood urge to travel the world – the Times World Atlas was my bedtime reading. In the late 1970s I eventually headed off, and Israel was one of my first stops. A couple from Ullapool I met on a kibbutz near Galilee sealed my fate. On returning to London I started to build a career in marketing in the film industry, but I hadn’t lost my wanderlust.
I visited Ullapool for a Hogmanay party, fell in love with the beauty of the place and stayed, gravitating back to what I knew and loved – food. I wanted to create a family-run deli based on the ones I used to visit as a child in London.
It would be something different for Ullapool – something locals and tourists could enjoy and that captured memories of holidays and travel, while also showcasing the wonderful produce Scotland has to offer. West Coast Delicatessen opened its doors in January 2013.
How did you get to where you are today?
Hard work, long hours, perseverance and determination. Limited kitchen space means we focus on great but simple food using the finest local ingredients. Over the years we have had to react quickly to changes in demand, finances and the pandemic.
Having a small, tight-knit team means we can pivot on a pinhead and change overnight. We are also constantly researching to keep us fresh and up-to-date with the latest trends.
Who helped you?
My husband, Kim – financially initially, but now he keeps me calm and level-headed, which isn’t easy. Richard, my right-hand man, has been with us from day one, and his willingness to learn with me and his graphic design skills have helped shape the image and direction of the deli.
My staff are brilliant with customers, and always go above and beyond the call of duty. Ullapool locals have given us immense support, especially during the pandemic, and the Federation of Small Businesses has kept us informed about constantly changing regulations.
What has been your biggest mistake?
Spending too much time on the shop floor instead of stepping back to plan and develop the business.
What is your greatest achievement?
Winning one of the Highlands and Islands Food & Drinks Awards in our first year put us on the foodie map and definitely generated sales.
If you were in power in government, what would you change?
Social inequality. Access to good food, education and housing should be available to all in a first-world county, not just to the few.
What do you still hope to achieve?
Further expansion of our online presence. It’s enabling us to transition from a largely seasonal business into a year-round operation, with a near-full complement of staff over the winter – good for us and the local economy. Personally, I still have to visit St Kilda and dive the SS Thistlegorm in the Red Sea.
What do you do to relax?
Long soaks in the bath with good books, and possibly G&Ts (gin and tonics) on the side.
What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on TV?
What do you waste your money on?
Clothes that don’t fit. I went through a phase of buying clothes a size too small in the hope it would inspire me to shed weight. It didn’t.
How would your friends describe you?
I hope my many friends know I’m always here when needed and that I’m a bit of a giggle when I let my hair down.
What would your enemies say about you?
Hopefully, I don’t have any – I avoid conflict.
What do you drive and dream of driving?
I drive a 14-year-old Renault Cleo. More successful mechanically than any work van I have owned, I call it my moving shed – it always has boxes in the back. My ambition? A campervan to continue my travels around the world, eating delicious food all along the way.