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Acclaimed Highland pie shop gets more than 1000 applicants for general manager role

By Mike Merritt

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Duncan Cameron of Lochinver Larder. Picture: Peter Jolly
Duncan Cameron of Lochinver Larder. Picture: Peter Jolly

A remote Sutherland pie shop bit off more than it could chew when it advertised for a new general manger.

For it received over 1000 applications – almost twice the population of its village.

Lochinver Larder was staggered by the response, with applicants from all over the UK as well as Europe.

The pie shop and restaurant, beloved by the late food critic and Holyrood director Michael Winner, was bought at the start of the year for around £900,000 by the Rose Hospitality group from Ian and Debra Stewart, who founded the business in 1986.

The business, which is on the booming North Coast 500 route, is currently selling its products from a converted old military Leyland truck – named the pie shack – because of the pandemic. It also runs a popular online pies-by-post service.

The general manager's job was advertised at £45,000-a-year plus accommodation, with benefits including an employee share scheme.

But interim manager Duncan Cameron, who is the group's operations manager normally based in Cumbria, was staggered by the response.

"I was surprised by the number, it was more than 1000 – but then again it's a reflection on the current employment climate," he said.

"We had applications from all four corners of the UK and parts of Europe, including Spain.

"Part of the reason for the large number was that we used a recruitment agency with a large reach and it led to people applying en masse."

However, he said that some people dropped out when they took a closer look at the map and realised exactly where they were located.

"We also had an application from a family with four children – who sounded ideal and would have helped boost the local school – but available accommodation was the problem for a family of that size," Mr Cameron said.

"We have got it down now to a shortlist of eight people – one is from London and the rest are based between the north of England and Inverness.

"We plan to invite two candidates up to Lochinver and see the place and appoint by the end of the year."

The manager's job advert said:"The breathtaking scenery of the Assynt area of Sutherland in north-west of Scotland is an 'out-of-this world' landscape with high peaks, glaciated valleys and has to be seen to be believed – once smitten, people are drawn to come back to this remote part of the world.

"The incredible Lochinver Larder pies attract a fanatical and loyal fan base.

"Lochinver Larder already encompasses the bakery and shop where guests can see the pies being made, deli, and bistro/café – and is extremely successful, with queues regularly forming before opening time."

The business is already doing well but Mr Cameron said it has continued to boom even in difficult circumstances this year.

"Business is booming," he reported. "Since July 16, we have sold 33,000 pies. Steak and ale is our post popular followed by our venison and cranberry. We are also doing a couple of Halloween specials including a Thai curry pumpkin pie, which is proving very popular.

"In September we sold 600 pies in a day and 1400 in a week online. There were queues stretching way back. One guy had even made an 800-mile round trip to get our pies until I told him – to his surprise – that he could order them online. He is now one of our regular online customers.

"We employ 15 full and part-time staff and have just taken on another two, a great couple from Islay – a chef and his front-of-house partner – who suddenly got made redundant from their hotel. We are very pleased to get them."

Late food critic Mr Winner wrote about the remote company's pies after stumbling upon them during a road trip to the Highlands. He said after eating the firm's steak and ale, and chicken, cheese and potato pies that "his spirits rose" and "both were absolutely tip top".

Under the new owners, Lochinver Larder now has plans to massively expand the business, to incorporate a pub, restaurant, brewery and smokehouse, further production capability as well as residential 'croft' buildings.

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