Mary’s Milk Bar – #whenigrowup

In #whenigrowup, Features, HOME, LIFE by Sam Prance

#whenigrowup is a feature in which PTL contributors discuss their aspirations growing up and what it is they do for a living now. The idea being to dip into people’s lives through their work. That and to look at cute photos of kids.

‘Saturday’s child works hard for a living.’

I think being a born under Thatcher gives me a special appreciation of milk. Milk feels like a right not a privilege. I went to Milk Bars as a child. Brucciani’s in Morecambe is a particular favourite of mine, with art deco wood paneling, 70s plastic furniture and exotic flavours like Mint Choc Chip. Milk Bars were (and are) cheap, cheerful and habit forming. I like their no nonsense service, simple menus and sticky Formica.

IMG_20150321_205937-001Little me sporting seaside chic.

In 2013 I decided to get a new job. I had worked as a chocolatier (yes, like musketeer only sweeter) for nearly five years and my teeth and I fancied a change.

Being an art graduate, in the perhaps slightly niche topic of Tapestry, meant a career path had never been clearly defined. I had graduated a few months into the recession so working within my skills was pretty impossible and taking a job with below minimum wage was the norm.

I worked my way up, tempering and moulding organic chocolates and after five years I was ready for a change and to learn something new. The recession still loomed ominously and I tried various part-time jobs all of which seemed to be aimless or dull. Now my skills were even more niche – chocolate tapestry anyone?

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetChocolate tapestry in action.

So I employed myself – with a lot of help and with some kind of blind confidence. It’s funny, it never crossed mind that opening a gelato shop in windswept Scotland would be a strange idea. Even while training at Gelato University in Italy (you heard right) and the other students being unable to fathom eating ice cream in anything less than 30 degree heat, I still completely ignored the fact that this plan might not work out.

It wasn’t until the first day of opening Mary’s Milk Bar that the possibility of failure occurred to me. Customers popping in and asking ‘what, no morning rolls?!’ or ‘you really should serve soup’ and leaving mystified. I only sold gelato, hot chocolates, milkshakes and chocolate. And I stuck to it.

I think you should do one thing and do it well.

After a while people started to agree – chomping into a Pear and Gorgonzola Ripple, a Golden Gaytime scoop or a White Chocolate with Black Olive cone. My aim was to make everything myself, from the gelato to the chocolates, keeping it fresh and seasonal. There’s fresh Scottish milk, cream and fruit – no strawberry gelato in November – instead pear, apple, oat, bread, violet and beer make regular appearances.

Pictures3-001A few of the flavours I offer.

My aim is to just keep on scooping. I don’t want to expand or supply restaurants. What would be the point of a scoop from Mary’s Milk Bar if it wasn’t made and served by Mary? I want to the little old lady who’s still making and serving ice cream in the same little place. My dream is small and I’d like to keep it that way.

Mary Hillard

Mary runs a little Milk Bar in Edinburgh. As a Yorkshire native, she enjoys tea, live darts, curry and the seaside. Her management style involves a mixture of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Lucille Ball. She has accepted the fact that sugar will rule her life. Editor’s note: Mary’s gelato provides the people of Edinburgh with joy on a daily basis.

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