Both girls were working in hospitality, with Christina working at the front of house for a local hotel while her sister was an experienced chef. So when coronavirus emerged and the entire industry ground to a halt in 2020, it saw them both lose their jobs.
“Looking back, losing our jobs at the same time like we did was one of the best things to happen to us,” said Christina. “You always talk about following a dream or launching a new business but it is very difficult and scary to leave the security of a guaranteed salary as it is such a gamble. Also my sister and I are both mums so it would have been risky to do that but when redundancy was forced on us it really just made us think this is our time and to give it our best shot.
“When we lost our jobs we wondered what on earth we were going to do. But we had always had this idea for a business and it was always a ‘one day we will’ kind of thing. So when we both found ourselves without jobs we had nothing to lose by giving it a go.”
Croft and Cuan was born in 2020 as the sisters combined their hospitality expertise with their long standing dream and initially they hit the road as a mobile food van, preparing, cooking and serving delicious food with locally sourced ingredients from the crofts and waters of their home islands.
Christina said: “We always wished we could be involved in event catering but when the pandemic hit there were obviously no events taking place. So we had to get something in the meantime to try and build our reputation and become established until events did return.
“So that’s what led us to the idea for the food van as we could get our reputation going, start our business and be working outside, keeping customers safe in time slots and travel all over the islands.
“We played with a few names but we wanted the name to show the food we serve is sourced locally from the croft or ocean and a wee nod to Gaelic too. It had to be marketable, too, for tourists and we thought Croft and Cuan was the perfect name. And as difficult as the pandemic was, the food van was very popular in lockdown and it went really well.”
The business continued to grow and before long they were looking to expand and find a permanent base, which they have been able to do after Business Gateway support enabled the girls to access £4,500.
They were awarded a grant of £2,500 through the Outer Hebrides Young Entrepreneurs Fund, which is fully funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and delivered by Business Gateway. They also accessed a £2,000 loan through the Comhairle’s Revolving Loan Fund, also delivered by Business Gateway.
This enabled the purchase of necessary equipment such as display fridges, shelving, counter, flooring and catering oven and supported their move into the new premises.
“We had a place in Lochboisdale which we used for a prep kitchen anyway, as the van is quite tiny, so we were able to take on the unit right next to the prep kitchen and turn that into a wee shop front to make it more full time,” explained Christina.
“We used the grant to buy equipment and to open up the shop. And the money took us basically from just having the van to being able to have both the van and the new shop.
“We couldn't have done it now without this assistance and it would have been difficult to save the money in time and it was important to do it now, as we didn't want to miss the season and make the most of the time of year.
“The shop opened in June and we have taken on a couple of members of staff. Events have also started and we have catered for a wedding with a few more in the books and we have parties lined up, so we are moving into the event catering which we always hoped we would.”
Christina had worked most of her life in hotels as front of house while her sister Samantha was a chef with years of experience cooking around the world and in five-star hotels. Together it’s the perfect blend.
It took the Daliburgh sisters just three months from finding themselves redundant to having the food van on the road dishing up delights to hungry customers in Uist.
“It happened quite quickly,” agreed Christina. “We both got notice for redundancy in the summer so within a couple of days of us both losing our jobs we were working on a plan and we kicked off within about three months.
“We were lucky to find the van as we had been looking at vans all around the country and we were wondering how we would get one when suddenly one appeared on Facebook over in Skye so it was perfect, great size, style and ideal for us.
“We change our menu every couple of weeks but the theme is usually burgers, tacos, burritos, pizza and other street food style items,” continued Christina.
Norman MacLean, Business Gateway, said: “Our advisers are highly knowledgeable about what funding is out there for businesses, and I would encourage anyone in a similar position to Christina and Samantha to reach out and see what is available.
“By working with our team, Croft and Cuan have been able to build on the demand for their products and set up a permanent space in South Uist. I am confident they will only go from strength to strength as they become more established and grow.”