It's 20 years since Claire & Andy started the Chococo story
Co-founder Claire here with an update on our 20th Birthday
We celebrated a huge milestone in the story of Chococo on Saturday 8th October 2022, as on Tuesday 8th October 2002, Andy & I collected the keys to a hairdressers in a back street in Swanage on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. We had left London the day before with our toddler Lily, turning our backs on corporate jobs in marketing & accountancy, to convert the hairdressers into our first tiny chocolate kitchen with a shop upstairs.
Why Swanage I hear you ask? Well, Andy's grandparents lived in the town (his grandfather was a locally famous doctor), his mother was born here & we were married in Swanage in 1999.
Why chocolate I also hear you ask? Well, that was my fault - my mother is a huge foodie and inspired me from early childhood to have a love of food and flavours. We used to make chocolates at Christmas and she was feeding us exotic things like polenta, risotto and blinis in the 70s before anyone had tuned into them - my lunch box was always interesting! My parents also lived in Brussels & then Holland in the 80s & 90s so we as a family were all introduced to the concept of truly artisan chocolates handmade on the premises of local chocolatiers using fresh cream & chocolate free from palm oil & with known provenance for the cocoa beans. We also used to enjoy drinking hot chocolates in cafes which were made with proper chocolate not powdered mixes. All these influences stuck with me and drove my interest in researching the potential to create truly fine, fresh chocolates in Dorset (& also using local ingredients) as no-one was making such chocolates in the UK back in the early 2000s!
We spent the rest of October & November converting the unit and starting to make initial batches of chocolates ready to open our shop on 5th December 2002. What a rollercoaster it has been since that day! Our first Chococo shop was upstairs (how bonkers is that) as we wanted customers to be able to watch us making chocolates on the ground floor and we were only open three afternoons a week (double bonkers) - to be honest, we weren't sure if Swanage was ready for our unique approach to making fine handmade chocolates with local, fresh ingredients....how wrong we were!
Our budget was extremely tight, so the kitchen was kitted out with metal framed Ikea kitchen units (with the approval beforehand of our very helpful Environmental Health Officer) and on a suggestion from my mum, we sourced a slab of marble from a monumental mason for hand tempering chocolate. He was chuffed to hear that the stone was being used to temper chocolate rather than as a headstone.
As we didn't have any money for kitting out a shop, my sister painted a giant map of the world on the wall (so we could tell the origin stories of many of our ingredients) and we used our dining room table as the counter! That table is still going today as is now in our Holton Heath HQ for team meetings.
I have been through all our old photos to find pictures from those early days but can't find any photos of us on that very first day when the unit was still branded up as a hairdressers. What a difference to life now when we all take photos so easily on our phones!
As the owner of the hairdressers was retiring, she literally shut the door & gave the keys to the estate agents....so we were quite surprised to open the door to find she had left all the sinks and 1960s stylie hairdryer units built into sofas - it was all very retro so a clever local friend who had been in TV suggested we take pictures of it all and send it to set designers to see if they wanted it to use as props on TV shows. Sure enough they did, and appeared a few days later with a van to take it all away! We were paid in cash and were tickled pink to give all the hairdressing furniture another life - we were into upcycling before it was a thing!
Watch Claire's 20 years of Chococo video on Instagram: http://bitly.ws/vk8f