Tuesday, 15 January 2008
IN the Highland village of Fortrose, close to the crumbling cathedral and a short walk from the shore, foreigners have settled.
At first the villagers were suspicious of the American interlopers.
Rumours abounded that The Anderson –an inn with two bars and a resaurant– might be turned into a Highland-themed pub or a nursing home.
But, four and a half years on, Jim and Anne Anderson are still there. They’ve survived the harsh winters and, with their wide choice of Belgian beers and impressive whisky gantry, have turned The Anderson into an appealing licensed venture for the Black Islanders.
A happy accident
Jim and Anne came across Fortrose by chance, while trying to take a short-cut to Dornoch.
The couple, who originally come from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were searching the Highlands for a small hotel which would give them "an adventure in the second part of life"; they were also keen to escape the States where the social and political climate no longer suited them.
It was their first trip to Scotland, but by the time it was over they had acquired The Anderson, a nine-bed inn with whisky snug, public bar and restaurant.
"It was either brave or foolish," Jim said. "We took over in the middle of dinner – there were people there who started under one owner and finished their coffee under another.
I didn’t even know what the coins were worth!"
Jim admits the upheaval caused by moving from an American city of four million to a Scottish village of 1200 was fairly traumatic, but the dark days, it seems, are now behind them.
"It’s the opposite environment [to America] up here," he said.
"It’s very racially pure, the culture is unchanged and the biggest scandal is the English! I’m starting to twig to the subtleties.
"We were looking to get away from the political and social insanity," he continued.
"The gun culture is out of control – all that stuff you hear, it’s all true and half the stuff you don’t even hear. Certain parts of American culture – the materialism, the war-mongering, the globalisation – they don’t describe us."
It will come as no surprise to learn that it took the couple a while to get used to their new surroundings.
For months they couldn’t understand that the locals were dour, not unhappy. But more quickly they realised that lavish praise was never going to be forthcoming from customers. The ultimate accolade, Jim said, is to learn the Anderson has been recommended to family and friends.
An impressive pedigree
The pair come from a strong hospitality background.
In the States, Jim ran a Belgian beer cafe, organised festivals and even printed a beer magazine; Anne is a trained chef.
In coming to Scotland they hoped to transplant their combined talents to a setting which would give them and their eight year old son a better lifestyle.
"We have built it slowly – what we were was underfinanced foreigners with no idea of the market," he said.
"We had no business contacts. The average life span [of a business] here is five or six years – that should have been a red flag, but we just thought they weren’t trying hard enough! The ball is moving so quickly – you’ve sold your house, the boxes are packed – you’ve got to talk yourself into it. It was blind faith that really kept us going through the first few months."
Blind faith and a hot summer
Jim joked that he can’t maintain a typical Scottish conversation about the weather, but is grateful for the sunny days of 2003 which brought hill walkers, golfers, birdwatchers, and even whale and dolphin enthusiasts to the area, keeping The Anderson ticking over.
What they hadn’t banked on was the impact the winter would have.
Like many remote outlets, The Anderson suffered as trade fell away, and in March they had to dip into their savings to stay afloat.
"We’ve had to work very hard at importing custom," said Jim.
The pub won the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) Pub of the Year for Inverness in 2007 and Jim confirmed the bar’s inclusion in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide has been the best source of business, along with their website, http://www.theanderson.co.uk/
"We do special nights, two for the price of one for CAMRA members. It’s normally £75 per room for bed and breakfast, so that’s a good deal."
"You need to market your business actively – it’s like voting. If you don’t take part in the process, you have no right to complain."
Jim admits there are still plenty of challenges ahead. He said the business has still to shake off the poor reputation, lingering thanks to its previous owner, and concedes they’re about two years behind on their ten year plan.
But he remains very optimistic about the future.
"The transition was very stressful but now we’ve got it made," he said.
This article first appeared in the Scottish Licensed Trade News.