THE old adage ‘if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well’ is the mantra of brothers Stuart and David Fraser – and it’s one that’s clearly paying off as their Balmaha coffee shop and ice cream parlour toasts success and celebrates it’s first year in business.
After a sudden brainwave snowballed into an 18-month long passion-fuelled project, St Mocha opened it’s doors to offer locals and visitors an unrivalled range of speciality coffees and teas, quality ice cream and snacks.
It all started when Stuart was looking at an old lean-to building beside the village shop that his family – who own the shop and neighbouring Oak Tree Inn – had earmarked for a takeaway addition to the shop.
“Suddenly it struck me,” he says. “The village was crying out for a wee coffee shop. Somewhere people could enjoy a good coffee or cup of tea and a cake rather than having to go to the pub or restaurant.”
The ideas became firm plans, and after a year-and-a-half of hands-on hard graft the plans came to fruition
Of course, ideas evolved as work progressed, not least because the opening coincided with the launch of the Oak Tree Inn’s Loch Lomond luxury ice cream.
“We’d been thinking of making our own ice cream for years – and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, especially after the amount of money we spent a few summers ago on fairly average ice cream from a supplier,” explains Stuart. “So we invested heavily in the ice cream-making machines and in creating a dedicated ice cream parlour space for them.
“The week before St Mocha opened we had all the training going on and it was all hands on deck. We wanted to make sure that if we were going to be making ice cream that it was the best it could possibly be.”
Indeed the investment and training in making Italian style gelato ice cream turned out to be another sound business decision as evidenced by the constant stream of positive comments, reviews and photographs that have infiltrated Instagram and other social networks since St Mocha’s opening.
As well as its Loch Lomond luxury line of ice cream, St Mocha has developed a range of fun and more child-friendly ice-creams including Midgie Massacre – with chocolate pieces and a raspberry coulis – and the special Wee Gingerbread Man variety dreamt up by a local girl who’s idea won St Mocha’s competition to devise a flavour to launch the Bal-Moo-Ha brand.
The fun line of ice cream uses the same processes and ingredients and is in no way, says Stuart, cheaper or inferior to its more adult-oriented luxury counterpart.
“It let’s us have fun with new flavours and names,” he adds, nodding with a smile towards the container labelled Och Aye The Noo Tiramasu in the refrigerated counter.
The success hasn’t been without it’s challenges though.
Stuart was worried that St Mocha might take trade away from The Oak Tree Inn, effectively robbing one part of the family business to play another, but his concerns never materialised. Thanks to the completely different offerings, St Mocha’s success means it’s not only held it’s own, but helped increase business in it’s neighbouring establishment as Stuart points out: “Instead of folks going in there (the Oak Tree) for a cup of tea and a scone they come here. It frees up tables for meals in the Oak Tree and offers a more attractive alternative to those who just want a cup of tea or coffee.
“In the past a lot of people out on the hill or up the lochside would would have gone home after their walk, but now there’s somewhere for them to come and we’re encouraging them to stay in the village a little bit longer.”
Staying open over the winter was another challenging decision to be made, but having made St Mocha work over the quieter months, Stuart is certain things will stay that way.
One thing he really wanted to avoid was folks coming to Balmaha during the tourist season and having a great time then coming back in the winter to find the coffee shop closed.
“I’m really pleased the way things went over the winter season, and a lot is thanks to ongoing local custom and support. Weekends especially ticked over nicely with visitors and it’s become a popular place for Oak Tree Inn guests to relax after breakfast,” he says.
“Ultimately our aim is give people a reason to come to the village, even if it’s raining – folks can come in and stay for as long as they wish…whether it’s ten minutes or five hours, everybody’s welcome.”