With 96% of their 100 plus reviews on Trip Advisor rating Thyme at Errichel, near Aberfeldy, as ‘excellent’, it’s clear owners Rebecca and Paul Newman are doing something right!
“If I could speak to myself back when we launched as a hospitality business, in 2014, I’d say: ‘Go in positively, it can be done!’,” says Rebecca.
Any initial caution however is entirely understandable, as the family privately financed the development of the restaurant and four luxury bedrooms in the main farmhouse.
The couple met while working at the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh. Paul was an executive chef with Hilton, and had worked in a number of 5-star hotels around the world; Rebecca worked for the international group in HR. A few years down the line, now married and with a young family, they jumped at the chance to let a property on Rebecca’s parents’ Perthshire farm. “Initially we ran the holiday cottages, but the aim was always to launch an integrated sustainable farming and hospitality business.”
Jump forward four years and Thyme at Errichel is now a Scottish Food & Drink Award winner 2018, and the business won the tourism category in the inaugural Helping it Happen awards, run by Scottish Land & Estates. “That was a pivotal moment,” says Rebecca.
The couple now breed both Shetland cows and Shetland sheep, both rare breeds well suited to living on the hillside terrain; they keep pigs, geese and poultry; and offer luxury accommodation as well as an award-winning dining experience.
“As well as the four bedrooms in the main house, and the restaurant – which can seat up to 36 – the business spans holiday cottages, weddings (either in the roundhouse or under a marquee), events and small conferences, private dining, outside catering, cookery school courses, farm walks and a farm shop.”
To help manage things, the business now has eight on the payroll. “We’ve been very lucky with staff, with strong local talent. Paul – who was named Chef of the Year in the Scottish Menu Awards – is supported by two full-time chefs: when one announced he was moving to New Zealand, an old colleague from our Hilton days applied to join us! There’s an undoubted appeal in the quality of life here in Perthshire, the local nurseries and schools are excellent, and we’re surrounded by beautiful countryside. Exactly what appealed to us in the first place.”
While the farm looks out over the stunning Perthshire scenery, the city centres of Edinburgh and Glasgow are both within an 90-minute drive, and many of the guests now come from central Scotland, with Thyme established as a destination dining experience. “What we don’t produce ourselves we do our best to source from other local producers,” says Rebecca. “Paul’s menu is influenced both by international flavours, as well as seasonality and local provenance.” (The business is a member of VisitScotland’s Taste our Best scheme, and annually achieves a score of 90% for ingredients sourced from local & Scottish producers.)
With the diversity on offer, Rebecca admits; “we’re still finding our way with the marketing mix”. Following business development missions to Italy, The Netherlands and Germany with VisitScotland in 2017, this year saw them welcome many more European visitors, especially from Germany, plus an increased number of guests from the USA and Canada. “Locally, farmers markets and opportunities for Paul to do cookery demonstrations are effective ways to promote our focus, and a PR campaign over the summer has seen an increase in bookings. While our rooms in Errichel House appeal to couples, our cottages are ideal for families and groups of friends, what all our guests have in common is a love of the countryside, the environment, creature comforts and great food.
“And social media is always vital to manage: we do try to respond to all comments quickly & keep content current, Instagram is proving very good for us. Trip Advisor & google reviews bring in many bookings with visitors staying nearby who are looking for a quality dining experience. We have a great local following too and our repeat customers visit so often that many have become family friends.”
“Across all our marketing efforts, we remain true to the soul of the farm as a family business. It is vital to really understand who you’re targeting, as that flows through to everything else, including pricing. People now treat Errichel as a destination in its own right, and book with us because of the restaurant, which is great.
“Next year our focus will be on opportunities for our staff to develop and progress with us as a business. This year, the restaurant has been open five days a week and we’ve seen bookings and turnover increase. We want to expand that again next year and give more visitors a chance to find a space in their otherwise hectic lives to reconnect with nature and enjoy the tranquillity. It’s exciting.”