#STREATTALK: AN INTERVIEW WITH CHEESY TOAST SHACK
With a fresh trailer, new shop, awards and Glastonbury on their résumé (not to mention a street-food baby in the oven), Kate and Sam have got the recipe for success - and for the perfect cheese toastie!
The couple behind The Cheesy Toast Shack created a business making "the best toasties in town" - and possibly the whole of Scotland - out of their mutual love for cheese.
We caught up with Kate to chat about what they have been up to so far, working with your life partner, new and classic delicious recipes, and an in on what's cooking in The Shack's kitchen!
Q: First of all, congratulations on your pregnancy! The last few months must have been quite hectic, how are you coping between your job, the newly opened business and expecting a baby?
A: Thank you! It’s definitely been difficult, but you just have to make it happen! I think something just kicks in when you're working for yourself, where you just need to get on with it, and there's not really any other option! Thankfully, Sam has taken on the lion's share of getting ready for a really busy month ahead at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where we have 3 pitches this year with our new events business. He's been doing all the grunt work and I've been able to be working on the computer avoiding anything physical. Now that we have the new kiosk open at St Andrews, I can finally sit down. However, getting that ready whilst heavily pregnant wasn't so easy!
Q: Let’s got back to the beginning, could you tell us a little bit about how you and Sam started The Cheesy Toast Shack?
A: Sam and I started The Cheesy Toast Shack due to mainly a total love of cheese. We wanted to create a lifestyle for ourselves where we could work together, whilst being our own bosses, and creating grilled cheese sandwiches seemed like a no brainer to us. We both absolutely love our cheese, and we felt there was a huge gap in the market, at the time of starting, for some seriously good, gluttonous grilled cheese sandwiches in the Scottish street food world!
It's something we know how to do really well, so there's no point in spreading our attention elsewhere, when we can just concentrate on making one thing be the best it can be. Saying that, we definitely have lots of ideas in the pipeline to try our hands at other things, but I think for now with this business, it will remain all about creating the best toasties in town!
Q: You sell a wide variety of toasties with different fillings but what is your favourite? Do you have any new fillings coming up?
A: Definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite is our Mac N Cheese Toastie. We came up with this right at the start of our venture, developed our best possible secret recipe, and it's not stopped selling since we put it on the menu. Other items come and go, however, we're famous for our Mac N Cheese. I'm confident enough to say ours is the original, and the best in the business! As well as keeping our firm favourites that people have known to grown and love, we'll be introducing a few new ones for this year's Fringe, including the "Italian Stallion". This is made up of mozzarella, gorgonzola, fresh basil, pizza sauce and salami Milano.
Q: Nowadays, it is important for food businesses to serve alternatives for dietary restrictions. It must be challenging for you, given your company is based on cheese toasties. How do you compromise between flavour and dietary needs?
A: We can provide all sandwiches on gluten free bread, and cater as much as possible to specific dietary requirements when customers order. The one thing we've not managed yet however, is vegan friendly options. We haven't yet found a vegan friendly cheese that creates a great, oozing toastie, the ones we've experimented with have a very odd taste, and we've never been satisfied with the end result. We'll keep looking, as we don't want to compromise on the flavour and the quality.
Q: How do you source your ingredients and how, if at all, do you incorporate Scotland into your toasties?
A: It’s hugely important to work with local suppliers in as many aspects of our business as possible. We've worked with St Andrews Farmhouse Cheddar, we're currently in developments with a local baker, and a preserves company who we're developing our own range of chutneys with. In the Springtime with work with the guys at Balgove Larder, to source their seasonal wild garlic pesto. We have previously done a seafood toastie with lobsters caught on Kingsbarns beach (where one of our units is based) by local fishermen. Our logos and all artwork is all done through the locally based and very talented Hasta Inc, and our business cards designed and printed by the again, locally based, graphic designer Hey Frankie. The ice cream we serve at our St Andrews branch is made locally by Luvians. We do this with as many aspects of our business as possible.
Q: I read you were invited to trade in Glastonbury last year, how was the festival experience?
A: It was amazing, definitely the biggest challenge we've encountered to date. We took the tiny trailer we have situated at Kingsbarns, and managed to tow it; filled with all the equipment and a popup marquee and prep tent all the way down to Somerset. Sam was driving that, and I had a huge luton fridge van filled with all our Scottish cheeses and chutneys. On the first day there, during the most mental heatwave of about 28 degrees (which felt in excess of 30 in that van, with all the grills burning), our fridge van broke down, and we had to navigate a technician into the festival to try and fix it, or else thousands of pounds worth of stock was about to spoil! After that was fixed though, everything was great, we were queued out every day but we had a total blast. The vibe down there is awesome - we LOVE that part of the world!
Q: You recently opened a permanent trailer in Kingsbarns and a kiosk in St Andrews, how did the transition to permanent location happen and will you still travel around to trade?
A: The trailer has been sited there now since 2016, we used to take it away for events, but it's now a permanent feature. We got contacted to say that the St Andrews location was soon to become available, earlier in the year, so we grabbed that opportunity straight away. As much as we love life on the road doing events, it's so nice to have somewhere with running water and electricity… it makes life a lot easier! We built a popup to do weddings and other private events, and we've recently launched our new events company to take our product to the Edinburgh Fringe, where we've bought and fabricated an old shipping container to deal with the numbers more efficiently, meaning less queueing time and better toasties!
Q: Tell us a little bit about how you work as a couple, what are the advantages and the difficulties?
A: I personally love it, because I don't think going into business with a friend would be as do-able. Sam and I can shout and swear at each other as much as we want when we're stressed or don't agree with one another, and it doesn't affect our relationship, however, saying what you really think to a business partner when they come up with some silly ideas isn't as black and white...you have to be FAR more diplomatic. It's also really nice to be able to share in each others' success. We work really hard and get to enjoy the benefits of our work together, whether it be a weekend away, or recognition such as some of the awards we've won in the past. Perhaps at the beginning it was more difficult, as we didn't have clearly defined roles in the business, and were getting on top of each other, trying to do everything ourselves. However, 3 years down the line, I can appreciate what he's good at, such as the design and build work of our stalls and units, and let him get on with that, and he let's me do my jobs which are more computer and social media based roles.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: As for the near future, we’re going to be taking some time out from events, as the baby is due early September, so we just need some time to relax and enjoy our little girl, but I'm sure it won't be long until we get back out there doing more events! We have a lot of plans in the pipeline, but we can't say too much right now. But we'd certainly like to develop what we have and take it from there.
To stay up to date with The Cheesy Toast Shack at events & on social:
All Year Round: @Kingsbarns and @St Andrews
August: @Edinburgh Fringe Festival
#strEATtalk is our narrative series that shines a spotlight on Scotland's culinary scene, focusing on the journeys and stories of up and coming food innovators. Follow #strEATtalk as we get to know the people who are making our nation taste better!