Twenty years ago, Hannah Saxton stood beneath the ornate façade of the iconic Harrods building handing out free chocolate. She had just returned from a trip to Amsterdam, where she’d learnt to make chocolate from a Dutch chocolatier during her time as a student of fine art at The Slade. Good quality chocolate was quite rare back then, and many well-heeled passersby were charmed by her chocolate in Knightsbridge that day.
Among them was a Daily Mail journalist, who was persuaded to join one of My Chocolate’s workshops – an experience he then wrote about in the paper. Articles in The Independent and Time Out quickly followed, and later an appearance on the BBC’s The Apprentice, when Lord Sugar’s aspiring business partners experimented with taste and texture. ‘The Apprentice Chocolate Challenge’ is now one of the most popular team-building activities on My Chocolate’s books. Fast-paced and competitive, teams are invited to create their own chocolate product, which they then package and pitch.
These creative and engaging events are a huge part of My Chocolate’s business, a hit with groups of friends and big businesses alike. From back-to-back chocolate workshops for 800 people at Just Eat to a bespoke event at The Ritz with rooms dedicated to pralines, dessert wines and dipping chocolate, these public events have snowballed since the company’s foundation when Hannah ran workshops from her living room.
‘In the beginning, it was just me running all the workshops, as well as learning how to manage and recruit people, do accounts, make sales, and run the marketing,’ says Hannah. ‘Now we train our chocolatiers in-house, picking flamboyant personalities to run the workshops and encourage people to be as creative as possible. These workshops are quite tightly scripted now, with opportunities for the chocolatiers to add their own bits here and there,’ she adds.
Covid saw these workshops go online and chocolate-making kits sent out in the post. ‘It was feast or famine. One day we ran 14 workshops in a day!’ Hannah recalls.
Since moving from business premises in Holborn to the creative hub of Perseverance Works earlier this year, Hannah and her team have been enjoying getting to know other tenants and exploring the possibility of using some of the studio spaces to run extra workshops.
Today, there are three members of staff in the My Chocolate team, with an office junior and a marketing professional soon to join. A further ten freelance chocolatiers work for the company, whose clients include international giants like Google and Amazon. The big increase in costs seen across the hospitality industry, fuelled by Brexit and fewer people wanting to work in hospitality, is the company’s biggest challenge today. But Hannah sees this period as an opportunity to live up to the company’s brand values: creativity, playfulness and decadence. ‘It’s about figuring out clever ways to adjust the workshops to make them more cost effective, using our creativity to source new and interesting ingredients,’ Hannah explains.