Starting a new restaurant is daunting at the best of times. When you are stepping into the shoes of a much-loved predecessor, the task is that much harder.
Michelle Wilson found herself in exactly this situation last month when she opened The Beach Tree Cafe on Aberdeen’s beach front.
Michelle faced the unenviable task of replacing The Sanddollar Cafe, a 15-year stalwart of the beach until closing on June 23 to an outpouring of support.
On the Sanddollar’s final day, queues snaked out the door as people made one last pilgrimage.
One month on, and Michelle is settling in to her role as the new owner of 2 Beach Boulevard. She is, however, keenly aware of the job she took on.
“It was challenging,” she admits. “The Sanddollar had such a huge following, and was very loved. There were a lot of people that were upset about it closing.”
A helping hand at The Beach Tree Cafe
But as she looks to start her own Aberdeen beach legacy, Michelle has a number of factors in her favour.
Like the Sanddollar, The Beach Tree is a family-run business with its roots firmly in the city.
Michelle, 36, grew up in Aberdeen, studying law at the university before heading off to the Middle East to work in the oil and gas industry.
She returned in 2009 to start a family and – five years ago – a health and wellness company.
Meanwhile, her father, Mike Reilly, is Aberdeen hospitality royalty having owned the esteemed Olive Tree restaurant in Rosemount until it closed in 2011 (The Beach Tree’s name is part homage to that business).
Mike now spends his time as a founding director of Entier, the largest independent catering company in Scotland.
Well, when he’s not helping out at The Beach Tree, that is. On the day I speak to Michelle, Mike’s in the kitchen lending a hand.
Any teething problems at The Beach Tree, meanwhile, have been greatly mitigated by Michelle taking on almost wholesale the Sanddollar staff.
“We couldn’t have had the turnaround, had we not [taken them on],” Michelle says. Five kitchen staff including the head chef signed up with The Beach Tree as well as two front-of-house.
“We’re really grateful to have retained them.”
What’s on the menu at The Beach Tree Cafe in Aberdeen?
The Beach Tree menu is a mix of Sanddollar favourites along with a share of options cooked up from Michelle’s own experience in hospitality – she worked in the Olive Tree growing up.
From 9am to about midday, The Beach Tree runs a breakfast and brunch menu that includes full breakfasts and the popular Build My Roll option, which allows customers to stack up on bacon, haggis, eggs and anything else they fancy.
Lunch (from noon to 4pm) includes a range of burgers as well as dishes such as brisket bagels, haddock & chips and spicy halloumi salad.
Meanwhile, the interior has undergone a makeover as Michelle looks to put her own stamp on the place.
Her favourite part of the revamp is the inclusion of a long bench designed for single diners looking to pop in for something to eat after a walk along the beach or out with the dog.
“I just wanted to make sure it’s a modern, comfortable seaside vibe that people want to come to all year, not just because they are at the beach,” she says. “Somewhere where the food is always consistent – where there is a warm smile.
The road ahead
Michelle’s challenge now is to steer The Beach Tree Cafe beyond its first few weeks in Aberdeen.
And, as the one-month anniversary nears, Michelle says the cafe is growing week by week.
“The feedback we’ve had has been wonderful,” Michelle adds.
There are other positives, too.
The new owner talks about the “manic times” when the cafe is bursting at the seams and there is hardly time to think.
But Michelle is also learning to enjoy the quieter moments when she is able to reflect on her new role as restaurant proprietor.
“Sometimes when I’m tidying up after a busy day, it can be very peaceful,” she says. “It can be nice just to take a moment, sit in the window and just decompress from the day.”
The Beach Tree Cafe is open Wednesday to Sunday from 9am to 4pm serving breakfast, brunch and lunch.