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Scotland's Larder: Ross Anderson of Falls of Dochart Smokehouse

Cat Thomson talks to Ross Anderson about his tasting counter concept at the Falls of Dochart Smokehouse, Killin.

Published: July 13, 2022

Businessman Ross Anderson owns Falls of Dochart Inn in Killin, but the entrepreneur always has his eye on his next opportunity- so decided to turn the disused log shed in the car park into a smokehouse.

Inspired by a visit to Boston where he experienced the city’s “tasting counter” concept, when he returned home he turned this into reality, with the help of one of his workers who happened to have worked in an Ullapool Smokery and “really knew her stuff”.

So Killin now has its own smokehouse complete with trendy champagne bar interior.

Falls Of Dochart Smokehouse Tasting bar Killin
Falls Of Dochart Smokehouse Tasting bar. Photo: Peter Sandground.

Childhood

Ross was born in Gibraltar where his parents worked as civil servants, but the family soon moved again to live in Mauritius.

He describes an idyllic sunny childhood prior to returning to Garelochhead as a teenager; which was, "freezing, cold and grey."

His entrepreneurial spirit came out as a teenager when he used to earn pocket money by delivering Sunday papers, and then later on as a milk boy.

Ross Anderson Falls of Dochart Smokehouse Killin
Ross Anderson in front of the Falls of Dochart Killin

His hospitality roots came from helping out his relatives, who owned Skeabost Hotel on Skye for many years, during summer holidays.

Next generation

 A good work ethic is something he is keen to pass on to the next generation. His son is privately educated and has a privileged upbringing bu tRoss says: "I'm keen to keep him grounded, so he has been roped in to work here over the summer."

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In his early 20s Ross worked in financial services: “It was in the very early days, when it was the wild west. I met a guy, an ex-RAF pilot who I worked with for 10 years and we did very well together.”

Then the financial crisis came along, and he changed to property development. Among other projects, he bought The Isles Inn, Portree, turning it from a bed and breakfast, into a hotel.

Killin

Next he decided to develop the Falls of Dochart Inn, attracted by its unique location- a picture postcard place with enduring charm.

Killin is in the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, on the River Dochart, the most westerly tributary of the River Tay which flows into Loch Tay.

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The area is filled with Munros, making it appealing for walkers, and sits at the edge of the Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve.

Falls Of Dochart Smokehouse Tasting bar Killin
Dochart Smokehouse Tasting Counter, Killin. Photo: Peter Sandground.

Ross says: “I’m just astounded by how busy it is these days. When I first bought it we didn’t get anywhere near the volume of people we get now. [The Inn] was totally run down when I bought it and I refurbished it over the years and developed it. I have had it now for 22 years.”

International guests are now in the majority rather than Scots, including Americans, Spanish, French and Dutch visitors.

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Staffing

Today, one of the major issues for tourism businesses in Scotland is staffing, Ross says: "I am probably four people down out front, plus two down in the kitchen. We have chefs who say they are going to come and then don't appear and that happens every day."

Rising prices are also an issue - energy costs have doubled and that means they have to pass on price rises to their customers.

He appeals to the government to help the hospitality sector, suggesting; "Reduce the rate of VAT to 5 per cent like it is in Ireland and the rest of Europe; here it is 20 per cent. "

Falls Of Dochart Smokehouse Tasting bar Killin
Falls Of Dochart Gin. Photo: Peter Sandground.

“If you do that you would save half the businesses which are about to go bust and if Nicola Sturgeon wants to get more votes from business people in Scotland then that would be one way to do it.”

(Currently, while some VAT receipts are assigned to Scotland, the power to set VAT rates remains reserved to the UK government.)

Local Produce

In the smokehouse, Ross likes to stock other local produce from firms including Wild Hearth Bakery, Comrie, The Highland Chocolatier and Glen Lyon Coffee Roasters in Aberfeldy. Their jams and jellies and pickles come from Perthshire Preserves, Callander.

The fish they smoke is all Scottish sustainably-sourced farmed salmon, and as well as smoking food on site, they have had to outsource manufacture elsewhere due to the volume they now need.

Falls Of Dochart Smokehouse Tasting bar Killin
Dochart Smokehouse Tasting Counter, Killin. Photo: Peter Sandground.

Smoke

Everything they make uses their secret recipe, with the main smoke flavour coming from sawdust which is ground down from the Glenturret Distillery 10 year old peated edition whisky barrels.

This aromatic smoke helps give their hot and cold smoked salmon and smoked cheese its unique flavour.

Ross also sells their own-label whisky and gin- infused with locally grown tayberries- with the help of Glenturret distillery which bottles it.

Ross Anderson Falls of Dochart Smokehouse Killin
Glenturret whisky barrel smoked cheese

Sales pitch

As a natural salesman he enjoys the buzz of closing a deal, saying: "I have always sold things since my financial services days and then again when I was a property developer when I was selling houses, it is great."

He is hoping his next deal will be with Cairn O' Mohr Fruit Wines, as he plans to run wine, gin and whisky tastings in the smokehouse next year.

Speaking to visitors in the smokehouse is something he thoroughly enjoys – and it has even led to connecting with new suppliers.

Say cheese

He says, “I have used different cheese suppliers over the last three or four years, but a lady came in from the Scottish cheese marketing board as a visitor, and I explained that I was having really difficulty sourcing cheese and she put me in touch with the people from Kintyre cheese.”

He and his staff tell their guests about the story of the river Tay system, where their fish come from, how they smoke the fish and cheese.

He adds, "The people I have got working in there are quite theatrical, and it is like being on stage for them and they do quite enjoy it. And the tour guides love it because they are always looking for something to do with their people."

Dream big

Ross was brought up to make his own success and follow his dreams – but always to stick with things no matter what, so expanding the Falls of Dochart brand is important to him.

Their online presence and customer experience is key so visitors can order again having tried something from the tasting counter where they sell scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, smoked salmon cream cheese bagels, plus
sample plates featuring hot and cold smoked salmon, cream cheese and blinis, or tasting plates which feature all their goodies.

Their produce can then be ordered to be delivered to UK addresses, in fully recyclable cardboard boxes with chilled gel packs which keep the goods at the ideal temperature.

Wild Bill Hill

Ross's father in law was a legendary ghillie and a local character, known as 'Wild Bill Hill' - he became a ghillie on Loch Tay after a very successful career in business.

Sadly he died last year, and in memory of him, taking pride of place on the wall of the smokehouse, is a 40lb salmon which he caught in 1985 – the largest one to be caught on the Loch Tay for more than 50 years.

Ross Anderson Falls of Dochart Smokehouse Killin

Money and success are Ross’s main drivers, and his advice from his many years in hospitality is to stick with it no matter what. For example, today the chef hasn’t pitched up, so he will be there till 10pm or 11pm in the kitchen.

He also has plans for more smokehouses across Scotland but for now they are on hold – “I’m not going to do it now because I can’t get staff, so there is no point.”

Future plans

He would also like to be able to expand the smokehouse, saying: “In the old days you would go ahead and expect that you would be able to get staff but nowadays you can’t.”

He is hoping the government will help but says: “It is the really thorny issue of immigration which everybody hates – we don’t have people from this country who are willing to work and we don’t have Europeans anymore so we are going to have to go further afield.”

Scotland’s ageing demographic means the government is going to have to come up with something radical, he adds: “Staffing is a key issue and without addressing that nothing is going to happen.”

Staying power

Money and success are Ross's main drivers, and his advice from his many years in hospitality is to stick with it no matter what.

For example, the chef hasn't pitched up, so he will be there till 10 or 11 at night standing in the kitchen. He also has plans for more smokehouses across Scotland but for now they are on hold; "I'm not going to do it now because I can't get staff so there is no point."

In Killin ideally he would like to double the size of the shed; "we could do an awful lot more on the site but it is conditional on getting people but without staff you don't have a business."

Ross Anderson Falls of Dochart Smokehouse Killin

He would like to be able to do wine whisky and gin tasting, he said, "In the old days you would go ahead and expect that you would be able to get staff but nowadays you can't."

He is hoping the government will help but says: “It is the really thorny issue of immigration which everybody hates – we don’t have people from this country who are willing to work and we don’t have Europeans anymore so we are going to have to go further afield.”

Scotland’s ageing demographic means the government is going to have to come up with something
radical, he adds: “Staffing is a key issue and without addressing that nothing is going to happen.”

Ross Anderson owner of the Falls of Dochart Smokehouse, Killin.
Ross Anderson owner of the Falls of Dochart Smokehouse, Killin.

Falls of Dochart
Smokehouse
Killin
FK21 8SL

Tel: 01567 829 366

Catriona is a freelance writer based in the Scottish Borders, and a nominee for Food and Drink writer at this year's Scottish Press Awards.

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