22 December 2013
And … We’re done. We had enough stock to get us through the last few web orders and our final event at Wivenhoe Farmers Market, so it’s been a week of clearing up and tying up loose ends before the Christmas break.
The big news of this week is that we now officially hold the Choctails trademark. I was thrilled to receive the certificate through the post.
Wivenhoe wasn’t as good an event as last December, but we ended with a reasonable day’s takings. Once home the afternoon was spent packing everything away, allowing us a free Sunday to relax.
We’re primed and ready for any last minute orders on Monday and Tuesday of next week, and then the business will be closed until 6 January. We’ll be away for Christmas and New Year, heading off to Kenya on Safari for a complete change of scenery and a chance to get away and recharge the batteries. Merry Christmas everyone!
15 December 2013
It’s been all systems go with web orders and corporate gifts this week but we managed to keep up with everything and got everything shipped on time.
On Thursday we headed to London for the Chocolate Festival on the Southbank. The festival runs from Friday to Sunday so we drove in on Thursday rather than getting caught up in Friday morning traffic. We had a night out on Thursday at Wahaca. It was my first experience of the Mexican restaurant, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I steered well clear of the Tequilas though.
Friday we were up early to set up the stand before trading started and we’ve got a great spot opposite the demo kitchen. Friday was a reasonable day’s trading, despite the rain in the later part of the day. We had a great weekend overall. The weather flitted between moments of sunshine and downpours, which we hastily diverted from our tables, but the public remained resolute in true British spirit.
Our last outdoor event over, we’re now warm and dry for the rest of 2013.
8 December 2013
I’m counting down the days now. Christmas is in sight and I’m looking forward to the break.
I had a few days in the kitchen, again, putting together some special request orders and replenishing a few of our lines which are running low. That was all completed by Thursday, so I had Friday to prepare for Jimmy’s Farm Christmas Fayre.
We had a good weekend at Jimmy’s. I was fortunate enough to be next to the Hog Roast stand, so there were bacon sandwiches and pork and crackling on tap to keep me warm. It was busy all weekend, so I didn’t notice the cold too much. The weather was good to us, and although cold, it was dry and sunny all weekend.
1 December 2013
Another busy week done.
Monday we travelled back from London, having first secured tickets to see Monty Python at the O2 in July (and feeling smug all the way home). Once we’d unloaded and checked through the stock it was time to get ready for the Bury St Edmunds Christmas Market which starts on Thursday.
Tuesday and Wednesday were spent in the kitchen putting together some special request orders and also keeping up with web orders, which are coming through thick and fast at the moment.
The Bury Christmas Market was a lot of fun. The organisers’ request we dress in Victorian fashions, and the whole town is taken over by the market. We had a good weekend’s trading, which more than made up for our loss last weekend. I also managed to pick up a bottle of Slamsey’s Marmalade Gin and some Christmas presents during some quiet moments.
24 November 2013
With limited production days in between events it’s been a busy week. Monday and Tuesday was spent replenishing lines which are running low, and getting orders ready for shipping. Web orders are picking up this week, so we’ve been backwards and forwards to the post office and DHL.
Wednesday was spent packing stock ready for Taste of Christmas, and we headed off early on Thursday to Wapping to set up ready for the Thursday evening opening.
The Taste of Christmas event was a little disappointing for us. The venue itself – Tobacco Dock in Wapping – was wonderful and beautifully decorated but we were situated in the Chocolate Box, which was a room downstairs away from the main action and we suffered from a lack of footfall. Feedback from people who were in the main hall and exhibiting in the main walkways was very different, and they all had a fantastic event.
17 November 2013
I’ve had a very lazy and unproductive today, which was very welcome after another busy week.
I’ve had 2 orders for wedding favours to get ready, both very different requirements, but both completed and delivered on time. In addition to that I’ve been trying to get stock ready for my next few events as production days are going to be limited.
On Thursday I attended a pre-Christmas promotional evening at Baldwins store in Stowmarket, to launch our range of Choctails boxes into the store.
Friday and Saturday we were at Christmas Hall in Bildeston for the annual Christmas Fair. The entire house was taken over with craft and gift stalls and I managed to purchase a couple of presents myself whilst I was there. It’s always such a wonderful event and a great way to get into the festive spirit.
Our next event is Taste of Christmas at Tobacco Dock, so I’ve got a couple of days of frantic prep to get ready for that.
21 October 2013
It’s good to be home!
An early unloading time on Friday meant driving to London on Thursday – it was either that or get up at an unsociable hour on Friday to drive in through the commuter traffic. We had a fantastic event at Salon du Chocolat but I was glad when Sunday evening arrived and I could relax with a couple of glasses of wine.
Friday evening was the chocolate fashion show, and there were some incredible chocolate outfits on display. There was also a chocolate spa, complete with a girl bathing in chocolate … We were busy all weekend, and had some great feedback from the public on our chocolates, as well as a few trade enquiries, so fingers crossed we get some future business from at least some of them.
It’s back to the kitchen tomorrow to start replenishing stock levels. I’ve declined a number of events next weekend so that I can take a couple of days off and recharge, so our next event is Jimmy’s Farm on 2 November.
13 October 2013
I find myself with an unexpected day off today.
It was supposed to be Bury St Edmunds Harvest Festival and Farmers Market today. I love events in Bury, but the pouring rain didn’t look like easing up any time soon, and the thought of spending the day outdoors wasn’t particularly welcome, so when my phone rang just as I was about to set off, telling me the event was cancelled, there was a more than a tinge of silver lining around the cloud of not being out promoting Choctails.
Consequently, all the little jobs I’ve been wondering when I’m going to find time to complete in the next few days, have now been ticked off the ‘To Do’ list.
The last couple of weeks have been jam packed full of making chocolate, and getting up to speed with taking on the position of Membership Coordinator at our BNI Chapter, plus our usual visit to Jimmy’s Farm last Saturday.
I can now turn my full focus on getting ready for Salon du Chocolat next weekend.
29 September 2013
This week I’ve had a few meetings to work around, so didn’t get a full week in the kitchen. However, I achieved everything I needed to, including our 4-weekly cleaning review, which includes an even deeper clean than usual, as part of our Food Safety guidelines.
This week’s event was the Autumn Fair at Colchester Royal Grammar School. Takings were much higher than I expected, especially as there was another chocolate stall there!! The other chocolatier turned out to be Sarah Knights of The Chocolate House, who I trained with at the Barry Callebaut Academy in February so it was wonderful to catch up with her and find out how she’s doing. Her business is really taking off, and the type of events she’s interested in doing are some of the events I’ve been turning down, such as children’s parties (I’m not sure children and alcoholic truffles would be a good combination) and mid-week markets, so next time I come across something like that, I know exactly who to get in touch with.
So now it’s time to plan for the next few events. Next week is Jimmy’s Farm. The following weekend is Bury St Edmunds Harvest Festival, and then we’re into Chocolate Week and Salon du Chocolat at Olympia. I guess I’ll be head down in a vat of chocolate for the rest of the week.
22 September 2013
It’s amazing how much a big show can zap your energy! It took me several days to recover from Olympia.
I spent a few days in the kitchen stocking up on lines that were running low, but also allowed myself some time off.
Last Saturday I went to Felixtowe for a Micro Food Fair. We had a reasonable day’s trading, but it was one of those events where all the other stalls were so tempting I ended up spending nearly as much as I took. I was next to the Black Dog Chilli Company, who was telling me about his range of alcohol infused olives, including Gin and Kina Lillet. Well, that started me down a dangerous path … By the time I got home there was a Vesper Martini waiting for me, which slipped down very nicely, but made us forget our Lifeline Hangover Defence, so consequently Sunday was a hugely unproductive day, but actually exactly what I needed in terms of R&R.
I was back in the kitchen with a vengeance this week though, and stocked up on bars and novelties for our next few events, before having a stall at the Wivenhoe Church Ale festival yesterday. The village was out in force and I sold out of almost everything. As part of the festivities we had a parade through the village, some traditional dancing and a whole variety of events and activities, including having the mayor in the stocks at one point in the afternoon. I allowed myself a pint, even though I was on duty all day, but this is Wivenhoe and it would be rude not to. A great event and one I’ll be happy to do again.
11 September 2013
I’ve come out of my first trade show relatively unscathed, albeit rather tired.
I was unable to be at Jimmy’s Farm this month, as Saturday was set-up day at Olympia. I managed to negotiate my way across London (slowly) and back (even more slowly). We had a lot of compliments about our packaging, and lots of great comments about our chocolates over the 3 days. I’d taken the Slow Comfortable Screw with me to gauge public reaction, and feedback was positive, so it looks as if, with a bit of subtle tweaking, we’ll be including it in one of our seasonal special ranges during 2014.
I did manage a brief tour around the rest of the show and did some spirit sampling with a view to some new flavours and ingredients. I tasted some wonderful gins, but none as good as the Adnams First Rate Gin that I discovered at the Norfolk Show. I did discover Bramley and Gage’s range of fruit spirits and was won over by their Cassis and their Cherry Brandy, so our Kir Royale and Singapore Sling recipes will be including the two respectively from now on.
Now I’m back and rested, I’ve got the task of following up on leads and hoping we get some reasonable business from the show. Fingers crossed there’ll be some exciting opportunities to report on over the next few months.
26 August 2013
I was a little gloomy over the weekend because it was the Belgian Grand Prix, it being the race where Simon and I met, and I was unable to be there but we’ve had our best event ever at Bury St Edmunds over the weekend, so I can’t really be gloomy for too long.
Sunday and Monday was their August Food Festival and I was hoping we’d do better than the market we did there in May. We did. Sunday was better than we ever anticipated – our best trading day to date – so good, in fact, that despite having a great day’s takings on Monday, we felt a little disappointed by comparison! We’re hoping it’s a sign that the economy is beginning to pick up, as other traders had similar success over the two days.
So now it’s full steam ahead for the Speciality and Fine Food Fair in a fortnight. I’ve planned to have next weekend off, but in between I’ll be making rather a lot of chocolate!
18 August 2013
It’s been a quiet couple of weeks. I’ve had a few meetings but mostly been spending time in the kitchen and building up stock levels. As we get a shelf life of at least six months we can start getting ready for Christmas, which also means our Christmas Four will be back on sale soon.
Last weekend we did a promotional day at Memorable Cheeses in Ipswich to raise our profile, now that we’ve got some chocolates in their confectionery counter. Town was a little quiet, but I came home with a nice haul of cheese and a few sales of boxed chocolates.
Yesterday was Wivenhoe farmers market. Being summer, a lot of the regulars were missing, but sales were reasonable, albeit down on last year. I’ll miss next month as it the Wivenhoe Church Ale festival on the same day, which promises to be a fun day with the odd pint thrown in for good measure!
4 August 2013
I’ve had three days in the kitchen this week, followed by a day of meetings and admin, and then a full day off.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I concentrated on getting ready for Jimmy’s Farm on Saturday and also beginning chocolate preparations for the Speciality Fine Food Fair in a month’s time.
On Thursday I had an early networking meeting at Stansted and then home to catch up on paperwork and emails, before heading into London to catch up with some of my old PwC colleagues to celebrate one of the team’s birthday. Consequently I’d planned a day off on Friday, and even though I didn’t have the hangover I was expecting, it was good to have a day of R&R.
Jimmy’s Farm was much busier this month and we had a really good day’s trading. Feeling very pleased with the day’s takings, I was checking through my pockets at bed time and discovered another £40 I’d skimmed out of the cash box earlier in the day, so the day was even better.
Sunday morning it was time to give the van a thorough clean, and check the oil, screenwash, etc. before settling down to a Sunday afternoon of motorsport. Perfect.
28 July 2013
The new kitchen routine is working well and all but a couple of chocolates came out perfectly, so I was much happier this week.
The weekend has been spent at RHS Hyde Hall as part of the Essex Craft & Design Show. Having checked the weather forecast it was supposed to be overcast and raining all weekend, so I foolishly decided not to take the ice packs with me … so when we were treated to glorious sunshine all day on Saturday, I was ill prepared for it. We had a reasonable day’s trading on Saturday, but managed to spoil quite a lot of stock. The novelties were just a little gooey, so they’ll go back in the tank with the next batch; however, the Choctails didn’t fare well at all, so the family now has a large bowl of mis-shaped chocolates to enjoy. Sunday was a busier day and takings were much better, giving us a really good weekend over all. I was also better prepared for the weather!
21 July 2013
I really love the summer and the balmy evenings enjoying a glass of rose wine in the garden, but it’s really playing havoc with chocolate making. I’ve had a couple of complete disasters in the kitchen so I’ve had to develop a whole new daily schedule. I’m now starting in the kitchen at 7am so that the trays are coated and set by 9am, then I can get the fillings in and leave them to set for a few hours, and finish the chocolates off late afternoon, so that I avoid being in the kitchen during the hottest part of the day. I managed to manufacture an entire batch of misfits on Monday, and was beginning to think I should have just taken the whole day off.
Yesterday was Wivenhoe Farmers Market, and we had a really good morning, well up on last year. After that we spent the rest of the weekend with my family to celebrate my nephew’s 18th (where does the time go?!). It was wonderful to have the whole family together again.
14 July 2013
Monday both Simon and I took the day off. We spent the morning at Beth Chatto’s gardens, which, given that it’s only just up the road, we really should have made the opportunity to visit before now. We headed over to Walton for lunch and had a perfectly lovely meal at Harbour Lights restaurant at the marina, followed by a walk in the afternoon sunshine.
It was back to the kitchen on Tuesday, getting the chocolates ready for Memorable Cheeses, which I completed by Wednesday. On Wednesday I also had a meeting with the Food Company in Marks Tey to open negotiations with them. Fingers crossed we can get our boxed chocolates into there. On Thursday I went over to Harwich to visit Kings Deli, which ended in them deciding to take 16 of our lines for a pick and mix counter. I’m really excited about this opportunity, as it’s a great way to showcase our chocolates and the team there are a great bunch of girls.
Also on Thursday I’d been invited to a networking event at Nudge PR who are organising chocolate week in October. A great opportunity to network with other chocolatiers, and I had the chance to talk to Paul A Young and his business partner, who told me they’d heard of me. I’m not sure I’m going to get over the excitement of this one!
Saturday was the Wivenhoe Regatta. I had a pitch on the quay with a great view of the river, so really, the chocolates were incidental to the event. I’ve purchased a lot of ice blocks so we managed to keep everything cool. We also almost managed to sell out, so it was well worth having a stall there – perhaps the relaxed approach is the way forward!
Today we’ve been across the water to Rowhedge for a fundraising barbecue. A lovely relaxing afternoon of sunshine and banter – a great way to finish the weekend.
7 July 2013
I’ve spent the week on admin, following up on leads, and getting over a stinky cold.
After lots of phone calls I’ve made a few appointments with some potential retail outlets. One of the meetings is with a company called Memorable Cheeses in Ipswich, who have a pick and mix counter and want to take four of our lines to start with. Hopefully we’ll get some more lines in over time and there’s a possibility we can get some boxed chocolates in for Christmas.
On Friday I had a proper day off with a massage and a haircut and some shopping.
Saturday was Jimmy’s farm. It was a lovely sunny day, and footfall was down dramatically on previous months. We were also having another meltdown, so I need to think about how to keep things cooler on the stall in future – not a problem I encountered last summer.
30 June 2013
Another week packed full of events!
Monday was a day of organising stock and trying to have a day off in preparation for the week ahead. On Tuesday I packed up the van and headed over to Norwich for the Royal Norfolk show. Given the journey times I’d decided to stay over in Norwich and re-explore my old university town, although there wasn’t really much time to do that after the packed days I’d had.
We set up on Tuesday amidst the chaos of other stall holders bringing their vans into the food hall, so stepping around with unwieldy boxes and large gazebos was not the easiest of tasks. We’re in between the chocolate fountain stall and Chucklehead Cider.
Our first day at the show was a little disappointing. We took less than on day one of the Suffolk show although we’d been a lot busier, but with the volume of school trips to the show we were selling large volumes of the cheap stuff and not very many choctails, which is always a frustration.
Thursday we were just as busy, but we sold mainly Choctails, so I was mixing boxes like a demon at one point, and constantly having to restock the display. A much better day’s trading and I was a lot happier. All in all, a good show, and I’m likely to be there again next year. It was good to be home and back in my own bed after two days away though.
On Friday I headed over to West Street Vineyard to delivery their chocolate order, so we now have our 4 and 8 boxes in the vineyard shop. Whilst there I had the opportunity to try their fizz, which is absolutely delicious and I can highly recommend it. From there it was over to Colchester Castle Park to set up for the two day food festival before home for a relaxing evening and a small glass of wine.
On Saturday we were double booked. Simon did a fantastic job on the stall at the Colchester food festival, despite the rising temperatures. In the meantime I had a stall at Gifford’s Hall Vineyard for their open day, which was sadly not all it was billed to be. We were in a fantastic setting, the weather was glorious, there was a fabulous selection of producers, and the people who came were all buying, but sadly, the footfall was distinctly lacking, which meant we all left feeling a little disappointed.
On Sunday we had day two of the Colchester food festival, which was even hotter, so we had a severe melt down. Luckily we were out of the sun, so everything which has melted can be re-tempered or reused. We have managed to come out with a few more misfits than I would have liked, but we had very little actual wastage, which was a big relief.
All in all, a good week’s trading.
23 June 2013
I’ve had 5 solid and focussed days in the kitchen and my evenings have been spent packing, wrapping and labelling, so it was a nice change to be out amongst real people over the last couple of days.
Saturday was Lawford C of E School’s Summer Fair. Not your average school fair, I have to say. It was great to see Two Rivers Brewery, Stour Valley Smokehouse and Totham Bangers there, amongst a wide variety of other stalls. Although I’d originally planned to have an outdoor pitch, there was space for me indoors, so I came in out of the wind. We had a great afternoon’s trading, selling plenty of mix your own boxes alongside the chocolate novelties and bars.
Today we were at Kelvedon market and craft fair and it was a huge disappointment. There was a distinct lack of produce and far too many craft stalls to make it appealing to regular shoppers. We covered our costs, but that was largely down to the other traders wanting to try my chocolates. Still, you live and learn. I discovered later that there was a Taste of Sudbury event going on in Sudbury town centre today, which would have been much more my thing. I could even have seen Seasonal Suffolk skinning a rabbit.
16 June 2013
Busy, busy, busy. On Monday we were in Sudbury for the Unveiling the Statue ceremony. It’s 100 years since the statue of Thomas Gainsborough was unveiled in the town, so there was a re-enactment, 1913 style entertainment, and a market. We had to display our products in old and new prices – converting our prices into shillings was quite frightening. I’d kept to more traditional chocolates – rum, whisky, brandy and gin – to try and fit more with the 1913 style. It was a fun event to be a part of, and nice to be back in Sudbury.
Wednesday was the monthly Colchester EventNet meeting, and there were a couple of new faces this month, as well as catching up with some of the usual suspects.
On Thursday we were at Stonham Barns for the Sweet & Savoury ladies evening. It was good to see the boxes of chocolates are selling in the deli. I thought it was going to be an evening of handing out samples at first, but once the ladies had had a glass or two of wine, the sales started to roll in!
Friday was a chance to don the glad-rags and head over to Le Tallbooth for a charity ball in aid of MS-UK. Choctails had provided the chocolates for the table, which went down a storm as we’d put the MS-UK logo onto the base of the chocolates.
Consequently, I was a tad jaded for this month’s Wivenhoe Farmers Market, but we still managed to be up on this time last year.
So now we’ve got a week of chocolate preparation ahead, getting ready for 7 days’ worth of events, including 2 days at the Royal Norfolk Show, and 2 days at the Colchester Food Festival.
9 June 2013
I’ve just enjoyed a full weekend off, and it was lovely to be able to sleep in. We had the minor inconvenience of the central heating failing, meaning we’ve currently no hot water, and the weather, having been glorious all week, was dull, cloudy and, quite frankly, too cold for my liking.
This week has been a mixture of restocking and following up on leads. With the weather being so gloriously warm and sunny all week I had a couple of challenging days in the kitchen. Thursday I couldn’t get the milk chocolate to temper at all. The white and dark chocolate were fine, but the milk chocolate was being downright stubborn, so I put it all back in to melt back down and tried again on Friday, when everything came out perfectly.
Friday evening we went out for dinner to Jardine to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Plenty of wine was consumed, and hence I was rather pleased not to be working on Saturday but instead chain-drinking tea.
2 June 2013
Phew what a week!!
Monday was day 2 of Bury St Edmunds Whitsun market, and we had a similarly good day’s trading to Sunday. It was good to see people back for more chocolate – some from Sunday and some from other events.
On Tuesday I went over to Trinity Park in Ipswich to set up for the Suffolk Show. We’ve got a reasonably good spot in the food hall, although it was still looking a little sparse when I left as not everyone had arrived to set up by the time I left.
The show itself was quite an experience. I’ve not done anything quite that busy before, and I was on my own, which made it doubly challenging, but I managed to cope, and had some lovely feedback on how good the stall was looking.
The biggest challenge I find, is the issue of samples. Obviously people want to taste before they buy, and that’s billed in the food show guide. It does get frustrating that a number of people are only there for the free samples and don’t want to hear about the chocolates they’re tasting. I witnessed a tray of samples stripped bare in under 30 seconds at one point. I even had people coming into my stall to raid the sample tray as I was preparing a fresh batch!!
As well as a good couple of days trading I also made a few good leads at the show, and I’ve also become a Tastes of Anglia member, so forward sales could be quite good for us as well.
Friday morning was a quick turnaround and then it was on to Little Bentley Hall, which opens its gardens every three years and as a part of that has craft and gift stalls around the grounds. Friday was a gala evening, which is always tantalising seeing everyone clutching wine glasses on a Friday evening whilst we were working. Luckily I was only a few miles from home, so I had the stall tucked up and a glass of my own in hand within 20 minutes of the end of the gala.
The gardens were open to the public all weekend, with Saturday bringing coach parties in by, well, the coach load. Sunday was more of a family day.
Now we’ve been trading for 13 months, it’s good to be able to look back and compare our takings with where we were last year, and I’m really pleased with the way things are going. Of course, I’d like more retail outlets to stock my products so that I don’t have to do the volume of shows and events that I’m currently doing, but we’re moving in the right direction.
26 May 2013
So … In went the van and out came the instrument cluster. Back came the repaired cluster on Thursday, to be fitted on Friday. The speedometer worked, the rev counter worked, the clock and the milometer worked … The windscreen wipers and the interior lights worked too … permanently … Given that I need the van for shows and events over the next 10 days we’ve now got a workaround. They’ve pulled the fuse on the interior lights so they can’t come on at all, and fitted a flip switch to the wiper circuit, which is highly entertaining, as when I flip the wipers off they stop immediately and remain in that position. The upshot of all of this is that I’m going to need a brand new cluster, which is not cheap. Heigh ho.
The chilli wedding favours were delivered on Thursday. I’m hoping the guests will enjoy them. I had a surplus of chilli truffles which I’ve been enjoying whenever I need an endorphin rush. I also had a few vanilla truffles surplus which Charlie told me were ‘amazing’. They certainly disappeared quickly enough!!
Yesterday we were at Primrose Farm at their open day. The weather was great, albeit a little windy, and there was plenty for everyone to do. We had a really good day’s sales, with everything selling well. It was good to see some repeat customers too.
Today was the first day of the Bury St Edmunds Whitsun market. Again, the weather was good, bringing the crowds out. We had a great day’s trading and it was good to see Slamsey’s Gin, Two Rivers Brewery and Seasonal Suffolk there, although not good for my wallet!
19 May 2013
I took the van to a local sign writer last week. I was really happy with the artwork, but obviously need to run it past Simon before giving them the final go-ahead.
And then the trouble started …
The van wouldn’t start. A mechanic on the business park tested the battery and said it seemed fine, so it was likely to be the starter motor. We bump-started it and I got home and we had it on trickle-charge all weekend, just in case it was the battery, but nothing happened. So I called the local garage, who diagnosed it was the battery as it was still the original, so wasn’t unexpected. That all replaced, the van was running fine again, except none of the instrumentation worked. In the meantime, we got the logos put on the van and it looks great, so thanks to all the guys at Instant Image in Elmstead for a very professional and speedy job.
We tried changing a few fuses, to no avail, and even googled the problem to discover that it’s a well-known issue. We tried a suggested re-set, but that had no effect, so it’s off to a local electrical specialist next week.
In the meantime, we had Wivenoe Farmers Market this weekend. The hall seemed a little sparse as there were a significant number of stalls missing, and not many people through the doors, and in consequence, a disappointing morning’s takings.
12 May 2013
I’m often asked just how many chocolates I can make in a day, and, based on the fact that I can comfortably turn out 500-600, I always reckoned I could make 1,000 if I put my mind to it, so on Monday I decided to test the theory. The actual number was 935, so not far off, and there were a few misfits in addition to that, so the thousand is not an impossible target, should the requirement be there.
I want to make sure I’ve enough volume for the Suffolk show at the end of the month, but I’ve also got a Whitsun market and a big event the weekend after, so it’s a real guestimate as to how many chocolates I’m going to need. I’m planning on having at least 50 of each variety with me at each event, plus a reserve of at least 100 at home, in addition to having boxes made up and ready. On top of that, we always need to cater for families, so we’ll need bags of novelties, bars of chocolate, and no doubt copious quantities of space dust.
This weekend we’ve had 2 events and they couldn’t have been more different.
Yesterday we had a stall at a wonderful event at Green Island Gardens. It was a lovely setting, and the Choctails sold well. I was mixing boxes all afternoon, and pleased I had additional stock available. We had some wonderful feedback on both our chocolates and the whole display.
Today we had a stall at a craft fair in Ipswich, where we sold 2 (yes, 2) Choctails, a few bars, but sold out of space dust squares … I would have felt the entire event was a complete waste of time had it not been for a potential business opportunity for me to supply Choctails to a new chocolate shop opening up in a few weeks’ time. Of course, I never get too excited about these conversations until negotiations are suitably advanced, but it meant I finished on more of a high than selling 200 squares of chocolate mixed with popping candy had left me.
5 May 2013
This week I’ve been preparing demo chocolates for a client, working on wedding favours, and rubbing shoulders with other chocolatiers.
I’ve been asked to put together a set of wedding favours, consisting of a box of vanilla truffles for each of the tables, but with one chilli chocolate in the box, so I spent Monday preparing all the fillings. I’ve made the chilli chocolate mild on first taste, but the heat rapidly builds and finishes with a heck of a kick. I won’t make the chocolates until next week to allow the flavours and heat to develop to their full potential.
On Tuesday I had a day in London. I was invited to the Barry Callebaut annual chocolatier’s conference, where we were treated to talks on all things chocolate, including a presentation by Patrick Roger and his incredible chocolate sculpting.
It was back to the kitchen after that, making sure I had plenty of stock for Jimmy’s farm on Saturday. Although the market was busy, with everyone enjoying the sunshine, there were less people buying; however, the average spend was greater, so we had a good day overall.
With no more events this weekend, I’m looking forward to a couple of days off to recharge the batteries and then get into the serious business of prepping for the large volume of events at the end of the month.
28 April 2013
I finally got to play with my new melting tank this week. I’ve got 2 half-pans for it, rather than one large one, and had three chocolates on the go at the same time. Lots of fun.
I’ve also just bought a van for the company. A Ford Transit Connect. We collected it on Monday morning, and it’s going to make life much easier at events, instead of using the back of the Astra. Next job is to put logos on the side.
The early part of the week was spent in Manchester, at the Three Sisters Race Circuit, whilst Simon did his F1 racing experience. It was a fabulous day’s event, where he got to drive a Ferrari 360, an Aston Martin Vantage and then up through the single seaters, culminating in a 1994 Arrows.
Yesterday we were at Layer de la Haye for a craft fair and farmers market. There were some different types of stall at the event, and an activity room for the kids, so it was a good event. Our chilli chocolate went down well, and we sold a good number of pick your own box selections.
21 April 2013
It’s been a busy week. Monday and Tuesday I was working on the Chelsea chocolates. I then took a couple of days off as Wednesday was my birthday and I was treated to a lovely long lunch at Jardine Bistro. Thursday was our wedding anniversary, so we went for a pub lunch at the Horse and Groom.
I’ve got an exciting addition to the kitchen, in the shape of an 18kg melting tank, meaning I can work with larger quantities of chocolate when necessary. I’m looking forward to trying it out next week.
Saturday was Wivenhoe farmers market. Sales were a little disappointing, despite the sunny weather bringing more people through the door. I acquired some dried chillies from Willies Chillies so that I can experiment with different chilli nuances in the chilli chocolate.
14 April 2013
We had a wonderful few days away. The weather was better than expected, although quite cold for our first couple of days. Wednesday was gloriously sunny and the wind changed direction, so it was much warmer on the fells. We didn’t attempt anything too high as there was still a lot of snow on the peaks, and the winds were getting quite fierce and bitter on high ground. We came home via Yorkshire so that I could drop in on my Dad and enjoy a Yorkshire fish and chip lunch.
After a week away I was itching to get back into the kitchen, so I whipped up a small batch of dark chocolate yesterday.
Today we bought a van. We’ve been on the lookout for a small van as the hatchback isn’t an ideal business vehicle, having to empty out all the kit and put the seats back after every event, so it’s going to make life a lot easier.
I’ve done a lot of planning today as we’ve got a number of bespoke projects in the pipeline, including wedding favours, and chocolates with the Chelsea logo on. We’ve also got a potential project for a Hungarian-themed event, so this afternoon was spent researching Hungarian cocktails and then deciding which ones we could turn into Choctails. We’ve now got three flavours we’re happy with, so the next step is to work out the flavour balance for the centres and then turn them into chocolates.
7 April 2013
It’s time for a week off. Last week I had 3 days in the kitchen, replenishing stocks and getting ready for the next couple of weeks events. Yesterday we were at Jimmy’s farm. The weather was cold, but sunny, so there were plenty of people there, and we had a busy day on the stall.
So now we’re on our way to the Lake District for a few days walking. I’m looking forward to having a few days off to blow the cobwebs away before making a start on my next list of projects.
1 April 2013
The early part of the week was spent finishing off all the Easter orders, and making sure they were in the post by Wednesday evening, so that they’d arrive at their destinations in time for the weekend. It’s always great getting the orders through, and I still get a thrill of excitement every time an email comes through to tell me of a new order. It’s even nicer when it’s a repeat customer with some lovely feedback.
We had family with us for the first part of the Easter weekend, so as the sun was shining on Friday we headed over to Kentwell Hall where they were holding a Tudor recreation weekend, which was wonderful to see history come to life. I can highly recommend Kentwell for a great family day out.
Sunday and Monday we had a stall at Hedingham Castle, where they were holding a Medieval Siege re-enactment, with a farmers market. Unfortunately the bitterly cold weather meant the turnout wasn’t what we anticipated, and hence takings weren’t as good as expected.
This week I’ll be replenishing stocks before heading up to the Lake District for a few days away.
24 March 2013
March has been a month of demos and presentations for me. Last week I was guest speaker at Thorrington WI. I was made to feel wonderfully welcome by the group and sold some chocolates at the end of the talk.
It was my turn to do the 10 minute speaker slot at BNI this week, postponed from last week. My 60 seconds consisted of me handing some samples around the table and seemed to go down very well, and I then got to tell everyone of my journey to become a chocolatier, as well as where I’d like to take the business. It was great to get a bumper crop of referrals afterwards as well.
On Friday I was in London at the Chocolate Festival at the Southbank Centre, where I was given a demo slot in the chocolate cookery theatre. This was a whole new experience for me, being miked up and having little helpers to hand out my samples. I’d decided to talk through my story, from the early days of truffle making for the family, through to today, and dug out my old Good Housekeeping recipe that I’d originally used so that we could do a side-by-side comparison with the chocolate and alcohol truffles I make today. I’d also taken along some Strawberry & Champagne truffles for them to try, and the Singapore Sling, as well as the syrup I use to give an idea of the intensity the syrups need to be to balance out the chocolate.
This weekend has been devoid of events and shows, so I’ve had a chance to have a lie-in and also restock the freezer with home-made ready meals and soups. It was quite therapeutic cooking savoury dishes for a change.
17 March 2013
We began the week with snow. I managed to get to Boot Camp, but we were a little limited on what we could do. Tuesday was so bad that my weekly BNI meeting was cancelled, just as I was all suited and booted and ready to do my 10 minute presentation. Hopefully spring isn’t too far away!
The exciting news of this week is that Wivenhoe Delicatessen has agreed to take some of our boxed chocolates. I often get asked if we have a shop in Wivenhoe, so it’s great to have an outlet in the village and I’m sure we’ll do some great business throughout the year.
Saturday was Wivenhoe farmers market. We had some new stallholders with us this month, and a good turn out from the local community.
Today I had a stall at a Bridal Experience. Slightly different to a wedding fair, the brides were treated to canapés, sandwiches and afternoon tea whilst we all had the opportunity to present our businesses and had more time to chat with the select group. It was a lovely format to the event, and much more personal.
10 March 2013
Yesterday I had a stall at a Spring Craft Fayre in the prestigious setting of Colchester Castle. The Castle is closed for refurbishment, but for a month they are allowing the public to hire it as an event venue, so yesterday we set up our stalls within the castle walls.
It was a fantastic location and great to be able to investigate all the nooks and crannies of the venue. The event was quieter than I was expecting. There’s been a fair amount of publicity around the event, but local advertising on the day seemed a little sparse, however, we had a reasonable turnout.
The chocolate bars were popular again, and we did a good number of pick your own ballotins, which are now available on the website as well.
Friday was a friend’s birthday, so we spent a very sociable evening in the Horse and Groom. Not sure the subsequent sore head was conducive to selling, but copious quantities of water and Diet Coke got me through!
3 March 2013
I can’t believe it’s March already!!
We were at Jimmy’s farm yesterday for the monthly farmer’s market and had a good day’s trading. There were plenty of people visiting the farm to see all the newborns. I’ve been working on some chocolate bars exclusive to the stall, and they went down very well, especially the Rum and Raisin bars. We also had hot chocolate again this month as the weather’s still on the chilly side, and managed to sell out, so there was some disappointment when I got home.
On a personal note, I’ve joined an early morning Boot Camp to try and get me back into shape. I’m not doing the daily walk to and from the train station, so I need something to keep me fit and I’ve been seeing some great success stories coming from Mersea Boot Camp led by Suez, who also makes fantastic cupcakes. It was a bit of a shock to the system having to get out of bed at 6am three times this week, to exercise outdoors in the cold, dark and rain, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first week, and get home feeling full of energy. Hopefully that will continue to be motivation enough to get me out of bed each time!
24 February 2013
It’s been a quiet week for Choctails. Web orders have been down, and we’ve had no events this week. This meant that I’ve been able to catch up on all the admin which has been backing up over the last few weeks. I’ve been booking up summer events, and I was thrilled to get a pitch at the Suffolk Show this year. I’m booked into some London events towards the end of the year as well, and off the back of the December London Chocolate Festival I’ve been asked to take a demo slot at the March festival. I’m unable to take part in the whole event, but I’d planned to visit the show on the Friday, so I’ll be hosting a session on the Friday evening to talk about what inspires us, and how we make our fillings.
The most comedic part of the week, was escorting my step daughter and her friend to the O2 to see One Direction. The plan was for me to find a suitable spot in the Slug and Lettuce and watch the rugby whilst the girls went to the concert. It was only when we got off the train in Stratford that it occurred to me to wonder if anyone had brought the concert tickets … Luckily we’d left early enough, so just had enough time to go home and collect the tickets and get back to the O2 in time for the main act. Phew!
17 February 2013
This week I made a return to the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy for their Chocolate Workshop part 2. I could hardly believe it’s been a whole year since I did part 1, and remembering how much I wanted to be running my own chocolate business by the end of the course. What a difference a year makes!
We focussed on a number of different techniques, such as colouring chocolate, decorative techniques, and infused chocolate bars, which I was particularly interested in. I got the chance to refresh some of my existing knowledge as well as learning a lot of new techniques. Some of the skills are more of a useful to know, but I’ve got some new ideas to try out as well.
With Valentine’s Day behind us, it’s now time to focus on Mother’s Day and Easter. I’ve developed a limited edition called Choctails & Creams, with three non-alcoholic chocolates alongside three choctails. I’m regularly asked for Violet and Rose creams, so I’ve been working on a recipe and I’ve been really happy with the results, although it’s a shock to the Choctails system to be creating ‘mocktails’.
10 February 2013
It’s been an exciting week for us at Choctails Central. I’ve been following the Queen on Twitter (not the real Queen, but a very amusing spoof account), and love the fact that she announced Gin O’Clock at 5pm every day. The accompanying website has its own gift shop, so I approached the team to ask if they’d promote my Gin O’Clock truffles. After a little negotiating we’ve settled on a mutually beneficial deal, so we’re using Valentine’s Day to test the partnership. Our web sales have increased dramatically and the kitchen has been awash with dark chocolate all week.
3 February 2013
Yesterday I did my first monthly farmers market at Jimmy’s Farm in Wherstead. I had a stall at their Christmas fair, which was a great day, so I’ve committed to their regular market on the first Saturday of each month.
It was very much Four Seasons in One Day, today. When I arrived it was cloudy and windy, so it wasn’t too important where I pitched the gazebo, until an hour or so later when the sun came out. The wind tried its best to blow the gazebo over, but we managed to catch it before it could take off, thanks to a helping hand from Seasonal Suffolk. Later in the afternoon it lashed it down with rain for a while, although I’d got the protection from the gazebo wall, so didn’t really suffer too much. And then the sun came out again, calling for a reorganisation of the stall. I was exhausted by the end of the day, especially as I’ve had a rotten cold this week, so I’ve not been at my best. I arrived home to discover a Vesper Martini waiting for me, and the Six Nations on the telly. Even better there was a spicy Goulash bubbling on the stove for dinner. Having been spoiled rotten for the evening, I’m now feeling much better and ready to tackle the week ahead.
27 January 2013
I was lucky enough to get a cancellation spot at both Sudbury and Lavenham farmers markets over the weekend. Both markets are well organised and have an excellent footfall, so there’s naturally a long list of people wanting a stall at both of these markets. It was good to go a little further afield and promote the Choctails brand to a new audience. I only found out later that Sean Pertwee had been at the Lavenham market, and purchased some fudge from Yum Yum Tree Fudge. I was so jealous!
Also this week, I’ve found a new outlet for our gift boxes. There’s a quirky little shop in Colchester called Handmade High Street. All the products are hand made by local businesses, and the shop works by renting the producers a 1-foot square shelf, then it’s up to us to stock the shelf with the products we thing will sell. I think it’s a great idea!
I’m also trying to finalise a deal to promote Choctails through the power of social media. I’ll keep you posted.
19 January 2013
It’s been a quiet month so far. In some ways it’s nice to have time to take stock and make plans for 2013, but I really miss the busy pressure of the last couple of months.
Today was our first market of the year, at Wivenhoe, and we had a good day’s trading. I’ve taken customer feedback on board and we’ve now got a “pick your own” counter on the stall. It’s great to be able to display our full range of chocolates as they sell themselves much better than a picture can. We’ll also have the “Pick your own” function available on the website very soon.
I’ve also been developing some new flavours for the range. We’ve been testing a Margarita and a Brandy Alexander, which will be available soon, as well as a Pina Colada, which has had some great feedback already.
For the next few weeks we’re focussing on Valentine’s day, so we’ve had our Marc de Champagne truffles on the stall. I picked up a Marc de Champagne and Truffle liqueur at one of our Christmas markets and blended with butter and white chocolate it makes a wonderfully decadent centre. The filling works well with all chocolate types, so I’ve made it available in white, milk and dark chocolates. We’ll have the heart-shaped boxes available on the website shortly.
1 January 2013
Happy New Year!
We managed to get ourselves organised for Christmas in the end, although it was a close-run thing, thanks to the late delivery of our shopping on Christmas Eve and a major ingredient for my fish curry being out of stock (the fish…). We had a fun and frantic couple of days with all my family here at various points but that was followed by a few days of R&R including a 24-hour break at Stoke-by-Nayland Spa where I was pampered to within an inch of my life. New Year was spent with some very good friends of ours and several bottles of bubbles seem to have been consumed, which is probably why my head has been a little delicate today. We’ve been for our New Year’s Day walk in the glorious sunshine and rewarded ourselves with a bacon and egg sandwich when we got back and I’m now singing along (badly) to the Wizard of Oz whilst waiting for pizza to arrive, cooking being beyond our repertoire this evening. An early night beckons and then we can launch full steam into 2013.