Roberta Hall-McCarron.



What is your business called?

The Little Chartroom.

Where is it based?

At the top of Leith Walk in Edinburgh. It is a really exciting time to have a business here – last year Time Out voted it one of the 50 Coolest Neighbourhoods in the World.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

We are a neighbourhood bistro serving brunch, lunch and dinner Wednesday to Sunday. We serve a small, concise menu of very seasonal dishes which is complemented by an eclectic wine list to match the food on offer. Running my own restaurant gives me the leeway to cook the food I love so diners can expect to see lots of game, when it is in season, for example.

On Sundays we serve brunch which is one of our most popular menus; we try to stay away from boring breakfast dishes and serve up something a little more interesting often based on classics such as kedgeree or devilled kidneys. There is always a full Scottish breakfast featuring the best pork from Puddledub and sourdough toast from our friends up the road at Twelve Triangles. We serve freshly made doughnuts on Sundays too.

The name of the restaurant comes from the shipping charts that are on the walls. I am a keen sailor and my artist mother created the artwork from old charts.

To whom does it sell?

The general public of all ages. We are a restaurant for locals but have also found that we are attracting diners from further afield, both in the UK and abroad.

What is its turnover?

£450,000 to £600,000.

How many employees?

I run the kitchen with three chefs assisting and my husband Shaun manages the front of house.

When was it formed?

June 2018.

Why did you take the plunge?

We wanted to create our idea of a perfect restaurant, somewhere that we would like to eat in on our days off, so it is a restaurant we think has a very relaxed atmosphere, efficient yet friendly service with good quality food that offers value for money. We believed that people would like that. We have just celebrated our first birthday and so far they seem to!

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I have worked in restaurant and hotel kitchens since I left school in Edinburgh. My first job was at The Tower restaurant, I went there for work experience and they offered me a job. I spent some time in Dubai at the Burj Al Arab hotel which had one of the biggest and busiest kitchens I’ve encountered. Then it was back to Edinburgh working for the Kitchin Group which led me to the position of head chef at Castle Terrace. Shaun and I were keen to have the experience of running our own place without the responsibility before we took the plunge so we took up positions at a country pub and rooms in rural Cambridgeshire, The Abbot's Elm, and really learned the ropes of how to run a business.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

We saved every penny we had and had some help from family.

What was your biggest break?

Since opening the restaurant we have had a few good reviews but the big moment was winning the Young British Foodies award for Chef of the Year. This helped to put us on the radars of many restaurant critics resulting in positive reviews. This did an immeasurable amount of good for business in terms of guests coming to dine with us as a result. We have since won Newcomer of the Year award at The Edinburgh Restaurant Awards and just been placed at number 79 in the top 100 restaurants in the UK at The National Restaurant Awards.

What was your worst moment?

There hasn’t been one defining moment but we have had a few issues with getting the appropriate licenses and planning granted but we are nearly there. These were all completely new to us and definitely what we have struggled with the most. It has got us really down at points and made things hard financially.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

We are in complete control and can change parts of the business whenever we feel it is necessary. We can be both pro-active and re-active as is necessary.

What do you least enjoy?

Losing good staff members after spending a lot of time training them up and getting them to believe in what we do.

What is your biggest bugbear?

At the moment it has to be dealing with various rules imposed by the council about waste management which make it really hard for small restaurants on busy main streets. We are going through some change at the moment and hopefully we will find a solution that works for all parties

What are your ambitions for the firm?

The key right now is consistency and steady growth. We want to be fully booked all the time but we need to be able to manage that and consistently give our guests the experience they have come to expect. We can only do that with the right team in place.

What are your five top priorities?

1, Consistency.

2, Happy customers.

3, Happy staff.

4, Paying all of our suppliers.

5, If we can do the first 4 and still turn a profit that would be ideal.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Reduce the crazy Value Added Tax that restaurants need to pay. VAT and business rates are crippling many good restaurants at the moment.

Hospitality should be promoted as a genuinely good career choice early on in schools both through home economics and business studies.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Get an accountant. We tried to do the accounts ourselves when we first opened and it was really hard. We could have been running at an almighty loss and been none the wiser.

How do you relax?

We like to eat out and spend time with our friends and family.