With a love of seafood, baking and some extra space in their new home, it made sense to Mary Ireson and her husband Jamie to combine their passions and open a new food and drink venture.
Based in their converted garage in the quiet village of Dervaig, on Mull, The Piece Box provides hungry passersby with delicious seafood-based salads, sandwiches and other goods.
And with Jamie’s occupation and experience in the fishing industry, the pair are perfectly placed to know what makes an ideal dish when it comes to fish.
How it all began
Having opened in June, Mary says they’d had the idea for The Piece Box for a while.
“We’ve had the idea for a few years and we did try to set something up in our old house,” she said.
“We’re now in a big house with a garage that the previous owner had been using as an art studio.
“My husband’s a fisherman and because of Brexit and Covid, and everything else, he hasn’t been fishing and has just been working on a fish farm. His desire has been to get back to creel fishing for shellfish but with the uncertainty of everything, we weren’t sure whether it was worth going down that route.
“We had toyed with the idea of doing something before and I used to do the local markets and make bread, cakes and pastries for those.”
Selling shellfish-based sandwiches and pastries, delicious baked goods and homemade bread, Mary has ensured that The Piece Box supports local producers where possible.
She continued: “At the moment we are still buying shellfish locally as Jamie hasn’t started fishing yet. We’re also buying the pork from the local farmer and a veg box from one of the local growers – so we’re trying to use as much produce locally as we can and support them
“We’re conscious about having a low carbon footprint ourselves.
“The feedback has been brilliant, everyone has been very positive and really pleased to be able to get some shellfish.
“We wanted to find a way to make shellfish more accessible for everyone. I think there is a bit more appetite for it locally as well, especially here and for people who come on holiday – they want to try the shellfish as they might not come from an area where there’s a lot of fishing.”
All in the name
Named after the commonly-used term for a lunchbox, The Piece Box came about after Mary learned that there was a desire for simple sandwiches which make the most of local produce.
“When I started I was trying to do some fancy things but actually, everyone just wants a sandwich, so that’s why we called ourselves The Piece Box,” she added.
“Lunch is traditionally the most important meal when you’re working hard. Jamie would always say ‘I need my piece box’ before he went out to work in the morning and the name is just a nod to the lunch box being a staple of the working day.
“I’m still doing a few whole lobsters and half lobsters, but people are really just wanting it in a nice sandwich. I’ve been doing a brioche roll and putting the lobster into that.
“We’ve been trying to have shellfish on the menu most days and I’ve been selling out quite quickly.”
Off the beaten track
To get a hold of Mary’s delicious seafood fare, visitors will find them by venturing through Dervaig.
“We’re slightly off the beaten track in Dervaig village. We’re literally a two minute walk from the village shop and post office but we aren’t on the main road, so people have to come down and through the village to get to us,” said Mary.
“We were a bit worried about that at first but we’re on the road to an estate with lots of lovely walks which are quite popular so we get people passing us.
“Dervaig hasn’t got anything – it used to have Coffee and Books but that closed about 10 years ago now, then there was a bakery for a short while. Since then there hasn’t been anything like this and we just thought there was a gap and we wanted to fill it.
“Because we live here and we love it, we really felt like we could make it work. It’s been great and I’m so pleased with how it’s turned out. It’s been so busy.”
At the moment, The Piece Box is operating as a takeaway, with customers able to pre-order online.
Mary added: “We don’t really have the space to do seating. It suits us fine and I actually quite like it, especially with Covid lingering on, it feels quite safe.
“People are able to phone ahead with their order and my website has an ordering bit on it. I’m not open until 10am but if people want to pick up sandwiches before they go off on a trip, they can put that order in and I can have it ready by 9am.
“It’s just me working here just now and now my husband’s on board, we’re trying to run it between us. We were doing 10am to 2pm but I might try and make the hours a bit longer next week, though we want to keep it nice and manageable.
“But next year there might be some more scope to take people on.”