IN the last few years, Scotland’s hospitality sector has faced unprecedented challenges - from lockdown to the energy crisis, the businesses that underpin Scotland’s premium tourist brand have had it tough. 

Café Cùil on Skye is one such restaurant that still awaits the worst of what the energy crisis has to bring.

Originally set up in east London, Café Cùil brought a flavour of Scotland south of the Border with the help of home-sourced produce.

But just six weeks after opening the landscape of lockdown in London inspired business owner Clare Coghill to take her cafe back to Skye - closer to home and the local producers that define her Scottish, sustainable and seasonal theme.

The National: Clare Coghill's menu puts a strong emphasis on using Scottish produceClare Coghill's menu puts a strong emphasis on using Scottish produce (Image: unknown)

She says: “It was a bit of a shock to the system having to close down the business in London so soon after opening. However, coming back up the road to Skye it began to make a lot more sense for us to relocate here permanently.

“We are so driven by local produce and Scottish ingredients so where better than to open on our doorstep where we have an abundance of suppliers?”

While being closer to those Scottish producers might have brought food costs down, the rising cost of fuel has rocked the supply chain.

Coghill says this has forced her to make some difficult decisions: “Our food costs have shot up enormously. We used lovely fresh crab from Orkney in one of our dishes. The price shot up from £26.50 for a pack to £38 in a few weeks due to fuel costs getting it from Orkney.

"It had to be taken off the menu - we have already been quite impacted in our food pathways.”

For Café Cùil decisions like this have a bearing on how the business looks to showcase itself as a distinctively Scottish brand. David Stroud, Coghill’s partner who helps run the accounts, has to tread the tricky balance between cost and business model.

He says: “One of the complaints we get from certain demographics is the price of a dish. Factored into that is our increased running and staffing costs - these are happening across the board now.

“Ultimately, that means that certain demographics of tourists could be priced out of our business. Alternatively, if we were to use cheaper ingredients, like frozen stuff that comes from abroad our business model is compromised.

“There's two options, do we increase our prices and cost people out? Or do we compromise our business model?”

The National: The Cafe is based near Carbost on the island's west coastThe Cafe is based near Carbost on the island's west coast (Image: unknown)

With huge reliance on refrigeration, cooking and heating, Stroud says the biggest costs are still to be met. Thanks to an inherited fixed contract, annual bills only run to between 14 and 15 grand for the business but that’s about to change.

Once the fixed contract runs its course in March, he has estimated their electricity costs will skyrocket to £55,000 pounds a year – a cost at which he says there is "no point" in running the business.

He adds: “We close for the season in November and I don’t know if we are going to reopen in March. There are just so many unknowns and it is concerning.”

The pair hope that there will be a support package for small businesses like theirs from the UK Government but there is real worry they will not see the rewards for their hard work because of the crisis.

“We’re coming to the end of a successful year, one that proved the business model works", Coghill says.

The National: Clare Coghill with locally sourced chanterelle mushroomsClare Coghill with locally sourced chanterelle mushrooms (Image: unknown)

“But it can take the wind out of your sails when you're planning on how to expand the business or employ more local people when you don't know if you're going to see a penny of return from that next year.

She adds: “I can't think of anything less enticing than working 60-hour weeks just to fill the pockets of energy companies.”

Despite the frustration of not knowing what the future may hold for the cafe, Coghill is committed to sticking to the principles upon which she built her business and using them as a roadmap through the crisis.

She says: “This is our first year of the business and we have made a success of it through our hard work. We are willing to adapt to whatever hardship we have to face in2023 while keeping things as local as possible.”