The next chapter 6 December 2019 Lexington managing director Julia Edmonds on taking the helm at the caterer and her people plans for the future
In this week's issue... The next chapter Lexington managing director Julia Edmonds on taking the helm at the caterer and her people plans for the future
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01 January 2000

Christine Livingston was up at the crack of dawn on Tuesday. She runs her own outside catering business and had to be at the town hall by 6.30am to get a cooked breakfast on the go for 200 individuals. Although many people have been preoccupied with the World Cup, Livingston and the residents of the Royal and Ancient Borough of Linlithgow, in West Lothian, have had their minds on other things.

On the Tuesday after the second Thursday in June, the Linlithgow Marches take place. In the days running up to the Marches, the town cryer can be heard in the main street announcing the event. Back in the 1300s, when the Marches first started, this was the only means of letting people know that the town dignitaries would be riding out to the boundaries of Linlithgow to hear of any crimes that had been committed in the previous 12 months. Although a court is still convened, no crimes are reported nowadays.

Since that time, though, the Marches have continued and it is now a well-known event in the area - thousands of people gather to watch the mile-long procession while hundreds of others, including bands and floats, participate in it. For Livingston, though, the Marches are about the logistics of preparing breakfasts, lunches and dinners in three different places for 200 people from Deacons' Court, a Rotary-type club, who are involved in the event.

Livingston has been catering for the Marches for about eight years. Despite this, each year she finds herself racing against the clock to get through the day.

The event starts at 5am, when some of the bands start playing and the marchers start drinking. Livingston can't touch a drop, however, because she's at the town hall cooking 200 breakfasts.

Once the marchers go to speeches after breakfast, Livingston has to get everything cleared away and get herself out of town by 10.30am. Any later than this and she's stuck, because the roads close when the marchers head for the western boundary at Linlithgow Bridge at 10.45am. Livingston makes her way to Blackness, which is the eastern boundary and about a mile from Linlithgow, to prepare a three-course lunch at roughly £8 per head. The menu is soup, roast beef with all the trimmings, and cheese and biscuits, and is served in a marquee.

Once lunch is over, Livingston has to dash back to Linlithgow for 4pm before the roads close once more as the procession makes its way back to the town. While the marchers, who have been drinking all day, dash three times round the cross - there is no actual cross: this is the name of the town square - getting faster each time, she prepares afternoon tea for the same 200 as before.

Through catering for the Marches over the years, Livingston has picked up a lot of other business, such as weddings at Linlithgow Palace, the former home of Mary, Queen of Scots, plus outside catering for the local council. She also provides food for the annual ghost walks that take place in the palace for three weeks in November.

Something much bigger has sprung up as a result of her outside catering, however. As a result of the exposure, people started asking where her restaurant was. This prompted her and husband Ronald to think seriously about opening one. What finally clinched the pair's decision was the fact that they had been looking for some time for a retirement investment. Although their first idea was to purchase an English-style pub, these are few and far between in Scotland. So, when a site which had once been the palace stables became available, they went for it - and Livingston's was born in December 1994.

Initially, the couple invested £75,000 in renovating the ruins. They also added a conservatory to increase the amount of seats, so they could get a quicker return.

For the first two years, the Livingstons had to reinvest almost every penny they made - £20,000 in the first year and £12,000 in the second. It has taken the family three years to build up the business and it broke even for the first time last year, with a turnover of roughly £200,000 for 1996 to 1997.

"This is really for our retirement because we have no pensions, so we were prepared to take a gamble and invest everything we had in it," says Ronald. Now the restaurant is standing on its own, serving an average of 200 covers a week and achieving an average spend of £30 including drinks.

When Christine isn't catering for one of her regular functions, she is running the 40-seat restaurant with Ronald and their daughter Fiona. The restaurant has now also become involved in the Linlithgow Marches: while the Deacons' Court are having their breakfast in the town hall, head chef David Williams feeds 45 members of the over-41 club, who are people too old to be in the Round Table.

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