You’ve got to be made of strong stuff to survive the hospitality industry, particularly given the last few years.
Even the hardiest of business owners have been brought to their knees, from challenges created by the pandemic to the rising cost of living.
For Lesia Lutchman-Robertson, having to start over is all too familiar, after she was forced to close her beloved restaurant in Westhill due to the oil and gas recession in 2015.
But Lesia has nothing if not staying power, and didn’t give up on her dream of running her own eatery.
Now the proud co-owner of Mamma Mia, a popular Italian restaurant found in Banchory, Lesia, who is originally from Trinidad, believes she has finally found where she belongs.
Running the venue alongside her daughter, Shinice Nelson, Lesia caught up with Society on all things pizza and pizazz.
Tell us a little about yourself
Hospitality runs in my family back home in Trinidad.
Most of the family are top chefs, I’ve always been involved in the running of hotels and restaurants from a very early age.
There was always cook books lying about the place as well.
My mum owned two boutiques, she was a seamstress by trade.
She also taught crafts and dressmaking in schools and within the community.
I partly get my business brain from her, and of course that sense of independence.
How did Mamma Mia come about?
So I first came to Scotland in 2005. I had part ownership of a restaurant, also called Mamma Mia in Westhill.
We ran for two years but we were forced to close in 2015 due to the oil and gas recession.
We were only in Banchory for an afternoon out, when we spotted a vacant building.
The new Mamma Mia was born, we had an ideal market because there wasn’t Italian cuisine of any kind elsewhere in Banchory.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing?
We actually just moved to a new premises in Banchory in April of this year, and that’s when things really blew up for us in a good way.
Our old building was leaking so we knew we had to find a new site.
It was still challenging and nerve-wracking.
You don’t know how a relocation is going to be, but it turned out to be the best move ever.
It was the right time for us because we had outgrown the old premises, it had grown stifling.
Now we have a very prominent position on the high street.
What was your vision?
I wanted to create somewhere, a place really – so people didn’t feel like they were in Aberdeen anymore.
I wanted my restaurant to be a place where people could come to get away.
And my food? It had to taste different to anywhere they’d ever been before.
The freshness, the flavours, the atmosphere; a place like nowhere else.
The atmosphere to me was paramount.
Everything else can be good, but if the atmosphere isn’t good you’re going to have a cold dish.
What has the uptake been like?
The response from the very beginning was great.
We have always been the go-to for people in the local area.
We do both dine-in and takeaway, both are equally popular.
Even when we were forced to close due to the pandemic, people were phoning us to check-in.
We get people who visit from Houston, who have let us know when they will be over because they want to come back here.
We get such a wide range of customers.
What would you recommend from the menu?
Can I say everything?
Our Gambino pasta parcels, it’s such a light and fresh dish.
The flavour is amazing with spice and tang.
As for pizza, well it depends on what you like.
We’ve got a really varied menu though. Toppings include Tuscan sausage, spicy jerk chicken, and creamy lemony mozarella.
Our ingredients are the best.
We get a lot of Italian customers and I feel like that’s the biggest compliment.
What do you think has kept you open second time round?
I keep strategising. I also learnt a lot from my brother, who owned restaurants in Tobago.
I worked there for a while and got some great experience.
What makes Mamma Mia stand out?
The atmosphere, I love it.
We offer customers an environment which is a little bit more difficult to find in a restaurant anywhere else.
We party with the customers, and we are friends with everyone.
The school kids line up at break time to get food, this is where we hit the spot.
They bring their parents in, and the parents always rave about what their kids say about us.
It’s an open kitchen here, so customers can see their food getting cooked right in front of them.
When you order your pizza, we hand roll each dough to size.
What’s next for you?
Customers of mine who have moved away from the area are always looking at places for me to open.
I’m looking for new premises and I think smaller villages will feel the benefit more.
Especially for the youngsters of the village, who can get the opportunity to learn a trade.
When I first came to Banchory, I didn’t expect to feel so accepted.
It’s like I belong here, you don’t get that feeling in the bigger cities.
Even when I was moving premises, the love I got from the community was amazing.
Everyone was behind us, it was overwhelming.
I couldn’t do this without the community.
For more information, look up the team on Facebook @Mamma Mia Banchory, or head to their website at www.mammamiabanchory.co.uk