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A Year of Covid-19: Craig Wilson of Eat on the Green on the most challenging year in business to date

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Restaurateur Craig Wilson addresses the highs and lows of running a business throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The past year has been somewhat of a turbulent year for hospitality.

What with restrictions forcing the industry to close their doors on numerous occasions, customers’ confidence being knocked for visiting, and takeaways being the go-to for many, the pandemic has put more challenges than ever in front of publicans and restaurant bosses.

And one restaurateur who has experienced highs and lows throughout the last 12 months is Craig Wilson of Eat on the Green.

Running the Udny Green-based firm for more than 15 years with his wife Lindsay, the duo have been tested in ways they could never have imagined, and had to re-think their business model when hospitality first closed this time last year when the UK was put into a nationwide lockdown.

Lindsay and Craig Wilson.

Craig and Lindsay had two choices. To close completely, or reinvent their business and offer takeaway for the first time. They chose the latter.

Seeing various closures and reopenings, launching a takeaway service, starting their own magazine show on Facebook Live, opening a new business, hosting weddings and virtual ladies’ days, not to mention smashing their £100,000 target for north-east charity, Friends of Anchor, it has been a busy year for the couple.

They also won the Restaurant of the Year award at Society’s Virtual Awards back in November 2020.

Oh we are so lucky and honoured to have another beautiful wedding to talk about! 🥰Congratulations to this gorgeous…

Posted by Eat On The Green on Sunday, 20 December 2020


One thing they are sure of is Craig and Lindsay both admit they couldn’t have got through the last year without their loyal customers who continued to support the fine dining restaurant as it pivoted toward pastures new.

He said: “The fact that over the years we had worked really hard at building a customer base that are so incredibly loyal has really helped us. During this time it has become very evident that for whatever Eat on the Green is, it seems to be more than a restaurant. It is built on relationships and we feel so overwhelmed by the support of our customers and team.

“The reality of it is we had to change our business model into something we had no experience in and had to close our restaurant.

Craig cooking in the kitchen.

“Initially our customers were encouraging, understanding and generous – we had people sending us cards, letter and photographs. That really gave us a lot of hope.

“I think it became obvious to us that our business wasn’t just a business anymore. It gave people an excuse to dress up, set their table, and gave them something to look forward to when ordering a treat with us.

“The enormous focus on food and drink is just unbelievable and I think it has played a part in being a glue which keeps the family together on days that it maybe went wrong. From a mental health perspective, the centrepiece of all of this had been food, in some shape or form.

“Whatever the mood of the week was, whether that was announcements of positive or bad news from the government, we saw spikes of people asking for certain things.

“At one point people were looking for lots of stovies and people would share what they were looking for on social media. It really allowed us to help guess what people would want or needed.”

Eat from the Green

Turning to a takeaway model, Eat from the Green was born and saw hundreds of people ordering for every occasion.

Whether that was a special meal on Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day, dinner for the family as a treat at the weekend, or birthday celebrations, customers from across the north-east battled all sorts of weather to get a sliver of the feast the eatery was offering.

He added: “I can only speak for ourselves, but there are lots of businesses who may not have gone down the route that we did for various different reasons, but we felt that we wanted to do it.

“We launched Eat from the Green early and kept it going throughout. We took on lots of feedback, too and we invested in an app. That was a gamechanger for us. We have been supported so much by our customers for the past year and most weeks we would actually sell out.

Some of the Eat from the Green orders.

“The fact Lindsay and I are workers within our business, if we did make a mistake or needed to change something, we could immediately implement it. We are really chuffed that it has given us a focus for the year and has given us an opportunity to look at different models.

“In this instance we had to adapt and do something. It has been incredibly challenging mentally and physically for all involved. It has not been glamorous by any means.”

Live at five

And it wasn’t just takeaway they turned to, the duo became the north-east’s very own Richard and Judy as they hosted a magazine-style show live on Facebook up to three times a week at points.

Gaining thousands of views, people from across the globe tuned in for top cooking tips, performances from artists, store cupboard ingredient inspiration, and also got a flavour of the various local producers in the area who were interviewed on the show.

And we’re back! Welcome to Live @ 5 With The Kilted Chef Craig with special guests Amanda Penny, Food Writer Julia Bryce of Society and Cameron Ross of J.G. Ross (Bakers) Limited. Episode 49!

Posted by Eat On The Green on Monday, 2 November 2020

“The pandemic I guess is responsible for our Live at Five programme,” Craig confessed. “We’ve been running it on Facebook really since it all began. We’ve hit 50 plus shows and it will be going in lots of different directions which we’re really excited about.

“We had people from all over the world tuning in from places like America, France, Vietnam, Spain, Poland and people from all across the UK. It has been a whirlwind and  is something I’d looked into doing a few years back after filming a pilot two years before. It wasn’t its time and I’m really chuffed that I didn’t doubt myself or look back as I think we were in a period where people needed something to look forward to.

“It grew, and grew, and grew and it really started gathering momentum. We changed it into a more professional set up and partnered with Laings and other businesses to do that. The viewing numbers were crazy at times and it was so nice to see people tuning in”

The Hummingbird Cafe

Lindsay also decided to launch her own cafe during the pandemic and opened The Hummingbird Cafe at the Rebecca Carr Residence in Kintore, Aberdeenshire, last August.

Operating primarily as a takeaway throughout its seven-month lifespan to date, Craig said opening the business has been great for the couple and is the ideal way for them to have their own separate creative outlets.

He added: “Lindsay launched The Hummingbird Cafe and started a new business during the pandemic. She felt there was a niche and it has required a huge amount of creative focus from her.

“I’m sure a lot of people would have thought she was crazy and would say ‘why would you even think of doing it?’, but she has done so well with it. It has been great for her and I think it is important that while Lindsay and I have done Eat on the Green together, that we have our own separate creative projects. I think that is really healthy.

“We have both been so amazed by the response to everything we’ve done throughout the pandemic. People had more time to comment and communicate, and people went out of their way to send you nice messages.”

Virtual Ladies’ Day

Eat on the Green was also well-known for its poplar sell-out Ladies’ Days with would see more than 100 women descend on Udny Green for an afternoon of eating, drinking and dancing.

Deciding to reinvent the offering online, they pulled together a meal for the event, made bespoke cocktails and sent their customers a code to get access to the virtual version which boated plenty of entertainment.

“It was great fun but the timing of it wasn’t great as the restrictions changed again, so it wasn’t like people could join together, said Craig.

Craig and Lindsay Wilson at a previous Ladies’ Day.

“We went all out with it and did a green screen, and did the exact format we would as the restaurant with our Friends of Anchor Brave model, several singers who performed live, and the food was picked up from the restaurant and enjoyed at home. I hosted it as normal, and although it was strange speaking to an empty room, it was good we got to keep it going.

“The most creative thing we had was a Barbados-themed beach which was the backdrop of us serving up our cocktails which everyone had collected in advance. It seems so long ago now.”

Charity work

But Craig and Lindsay’s efforts haven’t all been focused on their own businesses as the duo also reached their £100,000 target for Aberdeen-based charity Friends of Anchor

They have been fundraising for numerous good causes over the last decade and a half, and reached the total on Hogmanay.

Pictured is the Friends of Anchor team in December 2018, James Milne, chairman of Anchor and Craig Wilson, Kilted Chef.

He added: “We feel very lucky we’ve been able to continue our charity work throughout the pandemic. People have been willing to help more than ever, and we’re giving as much time to special requests.

“The cancer journey never stops and I am very proud of the fact that we trundled on. We can’t help but look back on that journey as there have been lots of things we have done to get there and I don’t regret any of them. It is about saying a huge thank you to the people who got behind us to support us on that journey.”


Considering what the year ahead will hold, Craig says while he is looking forward to welcoming customers back to the venue, he is in no rush to reopen. He remains cautious after what has been one of the most challenging years in business.

“Although our industry came to a halt, creativity burst through and I think our industry is really enjoyed by many. I have never experienced as much anticipation for a return of restaurants reopening or adapting.

Craig is cautious about reopening and will do so when he and Lindsay feel the time is right.

“I think we are at a very important junction for our industry. Most people have had time to take stock of what did and didn’t work. We’ll still be very cautious and it will not be like flicking a switch back to normal. We’ve had a very challenging year and although the building looks the same, every part of it has been affected. We have concerns and worries, but we’re pleased that we’re still here.

“Positively we have some really exciting projects which will start to happen over the next wee while. We’re very much still surrounded by boxes.

“We don’t have a hard and fast plan for reopening, but I am sure when we do we’ll make sure it is in the interest of safety and quality control as we did the last time. We just need to be patient. I still think there’s a new chapter for dine-at-home.”

For more in this mini series…