This mother and daughter duo have a fire in their bellies and won’t stop until they have conquered the Aberdeen food scene.
Established in 2008 by Leanne Coutts, The Richmond Street Deli is an institution when it comes to good, hearty, homely food.
Specialising in street food now, the venue, based on Richmond Street in Aberdeen, started life as a delicatessen right when the global financial crash happened.
Realising that it was the sandwich bar that was proving most popular with customers, Leeanne, and her daughter Shannan, who was 16 at the time, pivoted their efforts to providing the food and dishes their customers were looking for, leaving the deli concept behind.
Fast forward 13 years and the mother and daughter duo run the eatery solely by themselves, working hand-in-hand to get through hundreds of orders every week.
Celebrating International Women’s Day this week, the duo are a perfect example of how family can work well together.
Open from 9am to 2.45pm, both Leanne and Shannan have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, feeding Aberdonians’ appetites for big, flavourful portions of street food.
Shannan said: “We first started in 2008 and opened as news of the financial crash happened and we were going into a recession. It was originally meant to be a fine foods delicatessen with speciality meats and stuff. Obviously, the way that things happened that didn’t take off.
“We had a sandwich counter selling coffee and that kind of thing too and that really took off. We had to adapt to what people wanted and as the years have gone by we’ve morphed into a street food offering which seems to be working well for us.
“My mum has really been the driving force from the get-go. When she opened I was around 16 so I was roped into being the pot washer on Saturdays. I used to come in after school and clean things down and we had a few other members of staff at that time.”
Leeanne added: “I had a few full-timers and part-timers and after seven years of dealing with staff, and with Shannan obviously growing up, she became my right-hand woman around five years ago. For the last four years it has just been the two of us. It is harder work but we know what we are good at and what the other expects. We both want the same thing for the business.
“Shannan is definitely the diplomatic one. She is very good at dealing with the public whereas I have a chef’s mentality. She is good at picking up where I leave off. I do the cooking and baking, and Shannan is actually a really good cook, too. She steps in no bother and can rustle up really good food.”
‘A fine art’
Serving up hundreds of dishes every week, the five-day operation is a lot of handle with just two staff working side-by-side, but Leeanne says you have to be a certain type of person to be able to handle the heat of the kitchen when orders come flying in.
Perfecting their service, the duo work in synch to get orders ready for collection – and that means constant communication and getting stuck in at all times.
“It gets pretty crazy but I think because we’ve been doing it so long now, we’ve got it down to a fine art,” said Leanne.
“I think it would be impossible to find a replacement for either of us because it has taken a long time to be able to get to a stage where we can cope with the deluge just the two of us. I don’t think anyone else would be able to pull that off.”
Shannan added: “It hasn’t always been easy working together and we’ve had some hairy moments, but we’re family. We don’t always agree – maybe 60% of the time we do – but we both have the shops interest at heart and we’re on the same page with a lot of things.
“We’ve learned over the years that is isn’t always easy to separate personal differences from the shop but it is really important to ensure, whatever happens, you leave at the door and when you come in, work takes over.
“That probably helps our relationship to be honest as by the end of the day, so much has happened and you’re over it. Working with family isn’t for everyone and it is a real challenge, but for as long as we can keep doing this I’d love to keep working as a pair.”
Blowing up on social media
Having been running for 13 years, Shannan admits it wasn’t until the business decided to use social media more and utilise the different platforms that their popularity within Aberdeen really spiked.
With more people on their phones and being at home during the pandemic, it was vital Shannan got the business in front of people online, and is proud of how busy they are as a result.
She said: “Before we branched into Instagram we just used Facebook. I kind of stepped in and took over. Social media has helped enormously.
“For a long time we didn’t promote ourselves on it and then we got to the stage when we had to because everyone was doing it. When we started promoting ourselves on social media that’s when things really took off.
“In the last year, in spite of the circumstances, we have done really well and I would definitely put that down to the amazing food we do, and social media.”
Known for their comfort food and generous portions, customers flock to the venue to get wholesome, well-cooked dishes that are made to both Leeanne’s and Shannan’s high standards.
Leeanne “We both love good food and we used to save our tips when we could eat out and we’d go and treat ourselves to a really nice meal with our tips. We’re both foodies and our ethos is to never give anyone anything we wouldn’t love ourselves.
“We try and make it as interesting as possible with as many fresh ingredients as possible. We have incredibly high standards and I think that’s why people keep coming back.
We try and keep an eye on what’s fashionable and mix in some ramped up old traditional favourites – especially Scottish favourites. We make the food as fresh, vibrant and interesting as possible because that’s how and what we’d like to eat. We mix in lots of chia seeds and the salt we use is Himalayan pink salt, so it is great ingredients we’re using. There’s some hidden healthy extras in there to make up for the monster portions.”
“Our portions are pretty substantial and we really try and sustain value for money, even at my own cost. We keep our prices quite low, irrespective of my suppliers’ prices going up all the time, we very rarely hike the prices up.”
Running morning and lunch service five days a week from Tuesday to Saturday, the duo have decided to close every third Tuesday to open on a Saturday evening – something The Richmond Street Deli has never done before until recently.
Operating from 9am to 2.45pm, the deli will then close for an hour or so after on the Saturday and reopen for orders at 4.30pm for a four-hour-long Saturday evening opening.
Shannan: “A few weeks ago we trialled a Saturday night dinner service. Every third week, instead of opening on the Tuesday, we open on the Wednesday and open on a Saturday night.
“The first two have been amazingly successful. We plan on doing that going forward as it has proved a hit. If we didn’t enjoy working so much during the day and were to open in the evenings instead, we would do so well. We must have done at least 70 odd orders on our first Saturday night.
“We open our books for the following day around 3pm and we’re trying to operate orders on 15-minute increments at the moment to ensure people can get their food in time. One person will order one dish, then the next will order eight or more dishes. Each order can vary.”
With restrictions on hospitality expected to be softened come the end of April, Shannan and Leeanne plan to continue to operate the business as it has been over the past year, allowing customers the opportunity to collect their orders at set times – something which has worked incredibly well for the duo.
Leeanne added: “The way we operate just now isn’t something we’ve ever done before but it is really working out so much better for us. As a two-man team when you have everyone turning up between noon and 1.30pm for lunch you can appreciate it can get quite stressful. But being able to book people in for slots, we know exactly what we’re doing when, for how many, and I would quite like to stick with some of these changes.
Shannan: I think we’re just going to try go with the flow and see how things progress. It is working really well for us. It has been weird not having people in the shop, but it is so difficult with just two people as you’re doing the work of around four people each. For as long as we can streamline things, we will, we’re both really enjoying it.”