The Ins and Outs of Wee Bear CafeNeil Hardie
Wee Bear Cafe has used the coronavirus lockdowns of the last year to expand their business – almost completely outdoors.
Family-run business The Wee Bear Cafe at Bridgend of Lintrathen, near Kirriemuir, at the gateway to the Angus glens, has expanded its capacity by building an entirely new outdoor space.
Run by Gareth and Anne Finn, who are ably assisted by son, Rui, and daughter, Orla, the cafe is a popular spot for people visiting the glens to enjoy a walk, cycle or day trip.
Both nurses, Gareth and Anne, who still work part-time, bought the building and after completing work on it, they initially began doing bed and breakfast at the end of 2014.
However, it quickly became apparent that the project was going to require one of Gareth and Anne to quit nursing and The Wee Bear Cafe was born in 2015, with Gareth doing the day-to-day running, and Anne making all of the home bakes.
Gareth explained: “It had been an old farm building around 30 years ago and one of the local residents bought it and made it into a bar and restaurant. It was a top-end restaurant for some time, up until about 2009.
“The incumbents sold it to a company that wanted to turn it into a drug and alcohol rehab centre. The whole area was quite incensed that something that was at the heart of the village and had no real facilities for people recovering was going to be here.
“However, the Scottish Government took their idea and the building sat empty for quite some time. There was a lot of water damage so it needed work. My wife and I had lived in the village since the millennium and our kids were brought up in the village.
“We thought we either accept that someone is going to come along at some point and turn it into something or we try and do it ourselves. We bought the property and from a standing start began doing bed and breakfast.”
With the B&B side of things proving popular, the Finns noticed the business was taking up more and more of their time, so a decision had to be made on how they progressed.
“Anne said: ‘When you have made the beds, maybe you could have a little cafe and serve scones and cakes to the locals?’” continued Gareth.
“We went with it and the cafe part just started growing to the extent that we were nominated as the Independent Coffee Shop of the Year in The Menu Food and Drink Awards 2020 the week that everyone went into lockdown.”
When lockdown was imposed last year, Gareth and Anne took the opportunity to undertake work to give them more space and to allow them to trade during subsequent restrictions.
Gareth added: “We had already had plans for an outside space attached to the cafe and during lockdown we built it and we moved our entire cafe outside. That served us really well. We have been continually trying to evolve.
“Neither Anne nor I have any catering experience. The whole ethos of the place is it is just like coming to our house and you can have what we have. Rather than being business-focused you are coming to our house and we have been really lucky and people have embraced that, particularly when you are in a small community.”
And from a small acorn, the Finns have continually evolved their offering to the point where they held their first themed evening, a taco night, last Friday.
“We started off doing cakes and coffees, then we did soups and baked bread and did sandwiches,” continued Gareth.
“That kind of evolved into an all-day brunch type menu. The taco evening is our first step into seeing what else we can do, again based on the ethos that it is something we like.
“The whole emphasis of our business is it’s friends, it’s taste, it’s relaxing rather than you are going out for a meal.”
And it isn’t just food at The Wee Bear Café – music nights are also very popular.
“We have managed to attract some phenomenal national/international musicians for intimate sessions at the cafe. On July 17 we have a sold-out show with Martin Taylor and Alison Burns prior to their Edinburgh festival gigs and Martin’s solo slot at Ronnie Scott’s.
“Also upcoming are BBC Radio 3 new generation jazz artists, Rob Luft; Peter Bruntnell, Rob Vincent. Wee Bear is bringing music to the Glens!”
The café is named after their dog bear which you find isn’t really all that unusual when Gareth explained: “The dog is just another family member, he is integral.
“We have lots of lots of customers who bring their dogs here and it is more likely that I will know the dog’s name rather than the customer’s name,” he laughed.