The Bear’s Larder
Edingburgh, Scotland,


Visitors to the Scottish capital may have little reason to venture to the leafy suburbs of Bruntsfield and Morningside, but just a 15-minute ride away from the city centre are these two well-heeled, adjacent neighbourhoods, today transformed into genteel communities of urban villagers, boho-seekers and yummy-mummies, who flock here for Victorian mansion-house real estate, doer-upper tenements and barista-filled shopping parades. Both are rapidly gentrifying parts of Edinburgh, where you might possibly run into literary residents Iain Rankin or, worse, J K Rowling, although they have long been aspirational places to live. Other Edinburgers will even tell you of a ‘Morningside accent’, exaggerating its inflexions to mock the attitudes of its residents. You’d recognise it from Dame Maggie Smith’s portrayal of the eponymous lead in the movie The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Its author Muriel Spark was born here.

In a row of terraced shops built of traditional stone, nestling between the pun-tastic Close Cut barbers (complete with retro spinning barber’s pole) and the biblical-sounding fish and seafood restaurant Fin & Grape, is an old-worldly food store – The Bear’s Larder. Its antique-green frontage and handpainted-gilt signage hark back to an Edinburgh of yesteryear, in a style that you’d associate with an apothecary or sweet shop – an era away from the Starbucks and Tesco across the street.

Inside – like a step back in time – an imaginarium of foodie goodies and fresh produce lies in wait. Jars of jam, bread and cakes, cheese, coffee bags, fruit and meat products all line the vintage display cases and teak cabinetry that sit on the beautifully tessellated Victorian mosaic tile floor. In wooden crates – visually merchandised to within an inch of their life – an abundance of organic broad beans catches my eye, as do fresh green garlic, baby leeks and boxes of plump heritage tomatoes.

This story first appeared in The Spellbinding Scotland Issue, available in print and digital.

This story first appeared in The Spellbinding Scotland Issue, available in print and digital.

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At the centre of what I can only describe as a gastro menagerie are its two proprietors, Kit Binnie and Tim Henshaw. Kit is Scottish and describes himself as fuzzy and a bit squishy. He has a cup of tea in hand that looks as if it’s permanently glued to him. He built a career in HR in London before deciding to give it all up in the middle of the global pandemic and head back up here. Tim, his equally fuzzy fiancé, is finishing up chewing on a gummy bear. He’s English and looks perfectly at home here in all this theatre. But then, he was, before this, a stage manager who worked on musicals in London’s West End and plays that toured the UK. They’re an adorable couple, both dressed in plaid flannel shirts and, around their waists, leather aprons – I’m not sure if this is for practicality, effect or kink. But they are one of those couples that just click.

“We complement one another,” says Kit, “and, most importantly, we make each other happy. We are very lucky to live a fulfilling and uncomplicated life, in which we get to laugh and love lots. I love how inherently kind and giving Tim is. I might joke that he is grumpy, but he is genuinely one of the kindest people I have ever met. When the whole world feels like it’s up in the air with uncertainty, he’s my anchor. He embraces my weirdness and is always up for joining me on an adventure.”

Tim coos, “what I love most about Kit is his mischievous streak and how he can always make me laugh and not take things too seriously. He doesn’t take any nonsense, but is so good at compromise”.

Seeing eye to eye is certainly a benefit if you’re going into business with your partner, especially if it’s also a new life adventure. It took a nationwide lockdown to make Kit and Tim readdress their priorities. Working high-pressure jobs on opposite schedules meant they didn’t get to spend much time together. With a long-term plan to relocate to Edinburgh, they decided that it was time to make a change and forge something positive out of the pandemic.

“In a fit of madness, we decided to fast-track the plan,” reveals Kit. “I’m from Aberdeen originally, so we had already spent a lot of time together in Edinburgh and had already fallen for the city. There is just something magical about this place – it has old-world charm and history, but with all the joys of a bustling city. Whenever we came to visit, we’d walk out of the train station and feel a palpable weight lift, after the insanity of London.”

There is no doubt that London and Edinburgh, while both capital cities, are entirely different. But, still, I find it curious that two Londoners should opt for residential Bruntsfield and Morningside rather than the city centre or Leith, an enclave of the yuccies (young urban creatives).

“What we love about this part of town is that it has a village feel, but is only a short walk into the city,” says Kit. “It also has an amazingly diverse mix of people. We have regulars who are long-term residents, visitors, students, artists, and families. The area has a strong sense of community and the people are so friendly. It took us a while to get used to folk saying ‘good morning’ when you pass in the street.”

“Leith is a magnet for talented young businesses,” says Tim, “but those places have a very different feel from the one we wanted to achieve at The Bear’s Larder. Although Morningside might not be what most people would consider a neighbourhood with a strong LGBTQ+ presence, I’ve always quashed the idea that there are certain areas in a city that are considered gay-friendly. I believe we belong in every single community,” he adds.

Kit and Tim have been so busy that they haven’t had a chance to get fully involved in Edinburgh’s LGBTQ+ community. Now they’re finding their routine, they look forward to playing a bigger part.

“What I can say is that everyone who has come into the store, often from across the city, has been very welcoming and supportive,” says Tim. “It really means a lot to us.”

“Perhaps it has something to do with the name,” muses Kit. “While we both identify as fuzzy, the ‘bear’ thing really started as a term of affection. We refer to our family, including our wee dog Rufus, as ‘the bears’ and we’ve always called our home ‘the bear cave’. When we were thinking about branding, we realised that a bear is the perfect figurehead, as they have such an omnivorous diet. If any animal were to have a well-stocked larder, it would be a bear.”

While Tim seems more assimilationist, I sense that Kit has a slightly different view.

“Having grown up as an LGBTQ+ person in Scotland, I know there is still a lot of work to do in terms of achieving true equality for the community here,” he says, “particularly for our trans siblings. One of the main issues facing young Scottish LGBTQ+ people is that the community is small here and, for those who live in more rural areas, it’s non-existent and isolating. Luckily, there are amazing organisations, such as LGBT Youth Scotland, that provide quality youth work across Scotland.

“We wanted to show our support during Pride month, so we worked with our pal Rhiain, who runs Babyfaced Baker, in Leith, to create a special Pride cookie. We donated the proceeds towards the organisation’s incredible services and hope to be able to do more, such as provide employment opportunities for them, in the future.”

Looking around the store, it’s clear that much love has gone into creating The Bear’s Larder. With this comes a lot of learning, dedication, commitment and passion – blood, sweat and tears.

“We wanted to create a special space, where anyone can come and not only shop for amazing products, but talk about all things food-related,” says Kit. “We are rooted around the importance of the comfort and sustenance that a well-stocked larder provides. We have a deep love of food and a focus on artisanal and seasonal products and have made a commitment to work with, support and champion local, small-scale and independent producers whenever possible – the wee shops attached to farms or sold by producers who aren’t in a position to supply large retailers and struggle to reach city folk. We wanted to change that and bring them right into the heart of the community.”

Tim adds, “we are acutely aware that we are the faces of the business, so we want to provide the best customer experience possible. What that means is that we must always be switched on. I never want a customer to walk in and feel like they aren’t welcome, so we work hard every single second to bring the best of our personalities to the store. If you want to come and talk to me about preserved fish for 30 minutes every day for a week before deciding which you want, then you will have the same positive experience each time. We are here to be knowledgeable and to help our customers discover new treats, meals and recipes. I get frustrated with food stores where you walk in and the people working there obviously have no passion for what they are selling.”

People have reacted positively to this approach. Kit and Tim have built up an army of regulars who come back time and again because they know they can find great products, along with the knowledge of how to get the best from them. In my time in-store, I learn that the Scottish growing season is back in full swing after being hit by inclement weather. I’m armed with nuggets of agricultural knowledge – that it has been the shortest asparagus season in years, but bulb vegetables are thriving.

“We also want to work with people aligned with our own ethos and values,” says Tim. “We don’t stock your typical range, but that is because we won’t budge on our standards and we ask tough questions. It’s a lot of work, but it is worth every minute of it.”

Perusing the shelves and counters, I see just how this focus on curation manifests itself. There’s meat from Hammond Charcuterie, a female-led producer of artisan speciality meats, based in Berwick-upon-Tweed, who truly understand the importance of the provenance and welfare of its animals. They also work with Castle Game, a small butchery that sources the best wild roe venison in the country from local Scottish estates. My eyes even stop at the tinned fish from José Gourmet, in its beautifully illustrated packaging. Further along, there’s locally produced honey from the Edinburgh Honey Company. Among the bestsellers at the store are Kit and Tim’s own range of small-batch jams and chutneys. They make these at home on the stove in a traditional maslin jam pan. Each month they choose the best of what’s in season, from tart green gooseberries with the first blooms of the apothecary’s roses, to blackcurrants and fennel flowers. They’ve also whipped up a few bottles of gooseberry and heritage tomato ketchup. It comes as no surprise that as soon as they announce a new flavour, they sell out within days.

Watching Kit and Tim work together and the mention of the apothecary’s rose make me think of David and Patrick from the TV show Schitt’s Creek.

Kit laughs, “we actually get this comparison a lot and, while I will adamantly deny that I am as highly strung as David, I would be lying if I said there weren’t similarities in terms of how our skill sets complement each other. We are both completely new to this, so it has been a case of learning as we go. I’d be the first to admit that I am no spreadsheet or logistics genius, so I head up the sourcing and creative side of the business and can normally be found fawning over the latest deliveries of local produce, hunting down new independents and creating special-edition treats or preserves for the store.

“Tim is the driving force that keeps our little business – and family – on track,” Kit goes on. “He is levelheaded, an expert problem solver and the king of precision and detail. He heads up the operations and has become quite the visual merchandiser. He brings to the business a lot of the practical skills that he learnt as a stage manager. I just have to make sure that there’s always a bag of Haribos on hand for payment,” he jokes.

“I like working as a pair,” says Tim. “When one of us is having a doubtful day, the other is there to help. Ultimately, we believe strongly in our business. We don’t agree on everything, but that’s to be expected. I’ve learnt a lot about compromise and not sweating the small stuff. If the outcome is still going to be the same, there is no need to push for my way.”

“We’re also learning how to take time out,” says Kit. “It has been very intense, so when we do have some spare time, we appreciate little things, such as taking the dog for a walk in the woods. We’re now setting aside time together away from the business, even if it’s just to go and sit in our favourite pub. It has also been amazing to welcome friends to the city at weekends – a real breath of fresh air.”

Being at a gateway to Scotland, I’m keen to have a few pointers and ask for the inside track before I head off on my own journey around this storied country.

“We’ve done a little bit of exploring since we moved here, but not nearly enough,” says Tim. The desire is clearly there, though.

Kit adds, “I spent a lot of my weekends as a kid exploring National Trust properties and heritage sites with my parents. There are so many that I can’t wait to share with Tim. We live in such a wild part of the world, with so much rich history attached to it, there is always something incredible to explore. The West Coast of Scotland is rugged and beautiful and the Scottish Islands are stunning, each one of them with its own quirks. Closer to home, we have gorgeous coastlines, best when the sun shines. And I promise you it does – occasionally.”

Tim remarks, “on a wider level, we feel that Scotland is a work in progress that’s brimming with potential and that that will always be the case, regardless of whether it ends up as an independent nation or not. As someone who is English, I feel so lucky to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth that’s home to some of the best experiences. I can’t wait to see what the future for this country holds and am genuinely excited to be a part of it.”

I leave Bruntsfield and Morningside confident that Kit and Tim’s hard work will pay off and that they will find success (and much happiness) in their lives and what they’ve created here. But beyond that, I’m encouraged – and perhaps a touch jealous – to see that they have found their place in the community here, something I feel that we’ve lost in London. People make places. In Kit, Tim and their community in this little corner of Edinburgh, I found this spirit to be alive and well. It’s this spirit, its energy, that breeds entrepreneurialism, excitement and opportunity. Kit and Tim represent a new generation of business owners – experienced, worldly folk who, in Kit’s case, once sought to get away from Scotland, but who have now returned to it, inspired to start a new chapter and contribute to its so-called ‘work in progress’ and to feel empowered to be a proactive part of the country’s future.

In my short time in Edinburgh, I have heard so many similar stories – stories of creativity, innovation and breaking out of the box. Scotland isn’t often touted as a land of milk and honey, but it is for many people, particularly now. It most certainly is for Kit and Tim – quite literally.

Photography by Claire Fleck