In the first of a series of interviews with Scandinavian entrepreneurs around the world, we talk to restaurateur Michaela Kitchin. Michaela and her husband and business partner, head chef Tom run three establishments in Edinburgh: Michelin starred restaurant The Kitchin; Castle Terrace, and gastropub Scran and Scallie. A new addition to this portfolio is set to open in summer 2018.
My interview with Michaela doesn’t start well. I turn up on time, but at the wrong restaurant. I try to hail a cab to the right restaurant. Illuminated taxi signs drive on by, unable to stop in the one-way traffic. Eventually, I find a hotel and run up four flights of stairs to ask reception to order a car. It’s not for another 15 minutes that it arrives. As the vehicle inches slowly through dense, rush hour traffic on Leith Walk, I writhe on my seat while the metre clocks up a fare
I’m now around 45 minutes late, and Michaela is waiting. Frankly, I’m terrified.
With three busy restaurants to run and four young sons to look after, it’s safe to assume that Michaela doesn’t have time to wait around for scatty journalists. As soon as I arrive, she appears from behind the scenes and thrusts a friendly handshake my way. Despite the lateness, however, she’s chatty and finds time to give me an in-depth guided tour through the restaurant. It’s easy to see how, together with her husband Tom, she has established something so concrete and credible in Edinburgh’s portfolio of restaurants.
Michaela was born in the suburbs of Stockholm, evidently genetically linked to high-end restaurants: her brother is renowned chef Fredrik Berselius, who runs the two Michelin star restaurant Aska in New York.
Ten years ago, Tom and Michaela had put all their savings and a “small overdraft from the bank” into a restaurant in Leith, which at the time, was the only area in Edinburgh that they could afford. (The area has since become a much more desirable place to live). Michaela reflects:
“We always had the dream to do something of our own, and at the time we were engaged to be married. Everyone was saying: ‘Do you realise what a commitment this is? Are you sure you want to work as a husband-and-wife team?’ And of course, it’s hard. But then, anything you do is hard.
“It was very daunting, but we really wanted to do it and it was a really proud moment when we opened the restaurant.”
The investment paid off and The Kitchin was awarded a Michelin star within a year of opening. The business grew organically and the Kitchins expanded with two more restaurants in Edinburgh, each offering something very different from the last.
As Michaela shows me around the rooms in the restaurant, she talks about every aspect of running a business. There is continual reinvestment both into the business and into the staff, and a steady influx of regular guests at The Kitchin ensures Tom’s menu is ever changing, so that each dining experience is unique. It is clear there has been no expense spared. Consistently high standards throughout have resulted in a steady stream of customers, and that steady stream ensures that standards are always kept high.
“There were a lot of things that we didn’t know before we started, but we’ve had to throw ourselves in there and learn,” she admits. “One really important thing was to turn to people that were knowledgeable in the areas we weren’t and learn from them. You have to ask for help when you don’t know what to do.”
“For us, [starting a restaurant business] was totally the right thing to do and we’ve really loved the journey. We still do. We have some fabulous people who have been with us 11 years now, and we are growing together as a business. We invest in people. We never sit still – we keep investing in the business and we really push ourselves, and I think that’s been really rewarding,” she says.
Although I get the sense that running three restaurants and raising a young family must be tough, there’s no complaint from Michaela about how hard it is. She takes everything in her stride, and constantly strives to do better, like an athlete competing in the Olympics. So how does someone with such a hectic lifestyle relax? For Michaela, weekends are about spending time with the family:
“We love to visit the Botanics for a stroll around at the weekend or drive out of Edinburgh to have a barbeque or a picnic on one of the beaches. We both work a lot, so we make the most of family time over the weekend.” Holidays are often spent in the Bahamas: the family closes the restaurant at Christmas to ensure a much-needed break on warmer shores. After more than a decade in Scotland’s capital, Michaela assures me that it is her home.
“There’s a lot happening in Edinburgh. There are a lot of exciting developments going on and new restaurants popping up and it’s a really vibrant, busy city. I like that it’s fairly small and you can get around fairly fast. For us, having three restaurants and spending time between those and the head office, and travelling with four children – we don’t really have time to commute so it’s quite handy in that sense. It’s friendly; it’s a lovely community and we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,”
Is there anything she misses about Sweden?
“Definitely the summers! In the summer, Sweden is the best place to be. I love the archipelago – it’s really quite special. I try to go back a few times a year, but it can be a bit difficult with four young boys and a husband who’s working a lot, but we try, we really do try.
“We live a Swedish lifestyle in Scotland and we stick to many of the Swedish traditions and the kids are brought up knowing where they come from and who they are. We both really embrace that.”
Published in Le Prestige Scandinavia