Inverness restaurant Cheese and Tomatin opens up new branch in Aviemore that will serve their famous sourdough pizzas as well as other home-cooked foods.
Opening a new restaurant during a pandemic while so many are having to close may seem ambitious, but it hasn’t stopped Inverness restaurateurs Lisa and Tim Allan taking over the former Mountain Cafe site in Aviemore to expand their restaurant business Cheese and Tomatin.
Although mainland Scotland is heading into Level 4 coronavirus restrictions on Boxing Day, meaning hospitality venues will only be able to offer takeaway until the levels change, Lisa said they are hopeful their new site will be just as successful as its predecessor.
She said: “This summer we were still doing our mobile unit which we used to travel around all the surrounding villages to do takeaways and events and became very well known through that, so we decided to venture into Aviemore.
“It just so happened the Mountain Cafe closed and we just snapped it up. I think had Covid not happened, we wouldn’t have had this opportunity. I know that sounds really sad for the Mountain Cafe but I also know they’re very happy where they are now, we know Kirsten (Gilmour) who owns it and she is happy so it doesn’t feel as bad.
“It was an ambition to expand the restaurant and we were going in that direction. We did want Aviemore but I don’t think it would’ve happened without the pandemic. The lockdown was very good for us in Inverness. I know that sounds really strange, but because we’re mostly takeaway and delivery and people knew us anyway, we were so busy and I think it made us realise we needed to expand.
“I think if it had been any other property then we might’ve thought twice about it but we used to come here to eat all the time and we know it’s an absolutely amazing location.
“It was too good to turn down and the fact that Kirsten left was perfect timing in a way, although people keep pointing out that we’re opening a place while so many others are closing. It’s strange but we’re hopeful – Aviemore is still a really busy place, people are still coming and the restaurants here are still busy.
“It was a loss when this place closed so we’d really like to fill that void enough for something really good and create a hub that people can come to again – that’s what we’re hoping for.”
Where it all began
Though they may have just opened the Aviemore branch, Cheese and Tomatin – best known for its homemade sourdough pizza – has been in existence for several years and started out in a humble catering van before becoming one of Inverness’s most popular eateries.
Lisa said: “We’re originally from Fife, then we moved out to Arran about 10 years ago then to Inverness. We actually started in 2016 as a mobile caterers and had just a little trailer with an oven, which is how it came about – we just went round festivals and events and people really loved our pizza. At the time I’d been making sourdough and bread and everything at home and some pizza for friends, who would say I should start selling it.
“So it was kind of born out of that. Then we decided after two years of doing the mobile unit that we should just open a restaurant.
“By chance we knew someone who had a little property on Stephen’s Brae in Inverness – it used to be a shoe shop and a tattoo parlour – and we went and had a look and absolutely loved it. It’s an older property and was small enough for us to get on our feet and try having our own place.
“It is very small, all the pizzas are made in front of the customers as well and it’s got a little bar downstairs and a tiny snug room upstairs, which we made into a sort of living room where people can come and sit, as well as a little outside eating area as well. It’s kind of like an old Victorian house.
“The Inverness one is mostly takeaway and delivery but people do come and sit in as well. That’s what we really wanted to achieve – a really cosy and warm, homely feel and it’s great because you really get to know your customers as well.”
Planning to operate as takeaway only during the level four lockdown, they hope to make the Aviemore restaurant one of the top places to eat and drink in the Highland town when it is able to welcome people back in a few weeks.
Lisa added: “The Aviemore one is going to be open when restrictions aren’t as heavy, seven days a week from 8.30am to 10pm. In our Inverness one we really just do mostly evenings, as well as some lunches at the weekend and in the summer when there are lots of tourists around.
“Aviemore is going to be all year round with lots of different breakfasts and obviously our own sourdough is still going to feature throughout breakfast, lunch and dinner as that’s our signature thing. We’ll also have pizza from 12pm and we have an amazing pastry chef coming in so there’ll be lots of amazing cakes too. There will be coffees, stews and soups, alongside our sourdough bread as well.
“We want this place to be quite cosy and homely as well with all really authentic home-cooked foods.”