After making more than 5,000 marshmallows for one of their dine-at-home kits last year, Gary Nicolson from BOX’D! Orkney has commercialised the treats for the retail market, with a little help from his family.
Stories of various successful small food and drink businesses during the pandemic have continued to roll in these past few months, a far cry from the blow that the wider hospitality industry was dealt when restaurants up and down the country were forced to close for most of last year.
One such success is BOX’D Orkney, run by Gary Nicolson, 30, a chef at one of the island’s oil terminals.
Starting BOX’D! to fill a gap in the market, with very few takeaway options being available on the island, Gary started the business by crafting gourmet pizza kits that allowed local residents to create their own delicious pizzas at home.
He said: “There was a pizza restaurant that had started doing home delivery kits for families and as part of lockdown that my wife had seen on Instagram and she said to me it was something I could do.
“During lockdown we had weekly family takeaway weekends – I would do a takeaway for all my family around where I live and it was something that started from that.
“We trialled it with all of our friends by giving them some free kits so they could let me know what they thought about it.
“Then we launched our first proper kit in August 2020, which my kids helped with the marketing for. It was a kit that supplied fresh dough, your base sauce, plus toppings and it was something for people to make and do at home.
“At that time, during lockdown, you couldn’t go and do anything as nothing was open. It was something for families and everybody else to enjoy.”
While working on rotating weeks, Gary manages BOX’D! in between his shifts at a local oil terminal, where he works in the company kitchen. As his shifts rotate, the menu and themes of the kits he supplies are on a constant rotation too.
“I’m on shift rotations – two weeks on and three weeks off – at an oil terminal. So I do BOX’D! in my three weeks off,” Gary continues.
“We started changing the menu monthly and were doing things like Mexican kits with things like nachos, Indian kits and curry kits.
“When it started off, we just thought it would be something that was more of a hobby, but it started to become a wee bit more than that.
“We also did fine dining boxes, which was a five course meal and that went down really well. But it was a lot of work for us to do from home as, obviously, refrigeration is challenging, and spacing. We’ve also got the food for the family in the space as well, so it was quite challenging to fit it around that.”
Sweet side of the job
Following the success of his dessert boxes, which saw Gary making more than 5,000 marshmallows for Christmas, he felt he had found another gap in the market and began making the delicious treats for retail.
“We have done some sweet kits as well and that’s when we started selling marshmallows,” he adds. “We started out making s’mores kits for families locally and they were really, really popular.
“Then, at the start of this year, we thought that we should possibly try and launch the marshmallows on their own as Orkney Marshmallows and get them out to shops across Scotland.
“We launched the marshmallows officially back in May, when everything started opening up again and there wasn’t as much demand for dining at home kits.
“We now have the marshmallows in about 15 local shops, one in Inverness, and in Golspie. There are a few hotels as well who use them as welcome gifts for new guests, or in their mini bars.
“There’s also a hotel in Edinburgh that has them – so they’re quite well travelled but we’re looking to branch out even further.
“We make them completely from scratch. I’m not sure how many we’ve made overall but before Christmas we did toasting kits and there were 5,000 marshmallows we had to make – it was a lot!”
Due to the nature of the business, Gary is unable to send his gourmet food kits to mainland Scotland, but plans to bring his pizzas to the people through regular pop-up events, with some help from Ooni Pizza Ovens.
He says: “For the food kits, we did look into sending food packages further than just Orkney but it’s so difficult, especially with Covid at the moment, the post isn’t as reliable as it necessarily would be the whole time.
“We have to guarantee it’s going to be there within 24 hours otherwise we can’t guarantee it’s going to be at the right temperature.
“We’ve done some pop-up pizza events at a local gin bar called Oot The Back. Those have been really busy and we’ve started to do things like hen parties and any kind of function, really. If people want to hire us, we’ll be there.
“I got given an Ooni pizza oven by my wife for Christmas and, since then, we’ve actually got in another two. We got contacted by Ooni themselves who said they wanted to sponsor us, so it’s the Powered By Ooni group we’re now in and they help promote our business.
“Ooni have been great to work with and it’s quite exciting because there are only about 70 businesses globally and 30 businesses in the whole of the UK that are part of this group and we’re the furthest north. That’s something we’re quite proud of.
“We’re hoping to set up more pop-up pizza events around Orkney and hopefully we’ll be able to go to some of the more rural areas and people can come see us, without having to travel into town or further afield to get a takeaway.”