Sweet taste of success for Mawdesley's own Willy Wonka
Salt and pepper lemongrass, orange jalfrezi, chilli and lime, tonka bean and peppermint with liquorice are just some of the range of eclectic flavours of chocolate bars packing the shelves at Choc Amor in Mawdesley.
“Customers like the unusual flavours, the more normal flavours don’t sell,” said Paul Williams, owner of the venture, which he started as a cottage industry with his wife Jackie.
“Orange jalfrezi was one of out first flavours and it is still going
“Chipotle is also popular. If you go into restaurants you will see it in Mexican food. They are flavours that people are familiar with.
“Because we are based out of a shop we can let customers taste the new flavours we come out with. They help us with feedback, we’ve got our regulars and they enjoy being part of the creative process. We even have customers who bring us chocolate to try from far flung places.”
Paul’s chocolate studio, which backs onto his shop based at Cedar Farm, is now the proud bearer of numerous gongs including the World Finals for the International Chocolate Awards and the Great Taste Awards.
But discovering his taste for chocolate only came following a bitter blow for Paul. He was made redundant from his job as a sales director at a specialist mortgage company in December 2010 following the financial crash.
“The company I was working for went into administration on the same day,” said Paul. “In 2011 I sent out 1,000 CVs and got zero jobs.
“Then in January 2012 at around 2am I came across an article on the Observer website. It was about a guy who did a course in chocolate making and when he went home he started a chocolate business.”
Inspired by the idea Paul followed suit and has not looked back since. “I thought I’ll see how it goes for 12 months and it just took off,” said Paul, 46.
And now he and Jackie, 49, are enjoying the sweet taste of success.
“We had the luxury of being able to start it off small,” said Paul. “We had people helping putting the bags together hand tying bows and sticking on labels.
“I had nothing to lose.
“We started off making chocolate at home and then had a shop within Botany Bay.”
The couple, who live in Croston, briefly opened a cafe in Tarleton but then sold that part of the business in October 2016 when they realised the retail side was the more profitable part of the business. Moving into Cedar Farm in April 2016 was a “great move” and in the run up to Christmas Choc Amor saw its busiest Saturday in six years.
“It was stupidly busy, people were just spending,” said Paul. “We are processing 200 kilos a week at the moment and that should go up to a quarter of a tonne in a couple of weeks.
“We have got chocolate coming out of our ears at the moment - constant meltdown and madness.
“We probably move about seven to eight tonnes of chocolate a year.”
Since the duo have set up their shop at Cedar Farm they have invested thousands into new branding.
“We had wanted new packaging, it took us eight months to get it just where we wanted it.”
Their new look has helped Paul and Jackie sell their chocolate at places like Barton Grange garden centre near Preston, Churchtown Deli in Southport and Holmes Mill in Clitheroe.
“I love what I do,” said Paul. “I don’t really like chocolate, it doesn’t do anything for me but if it works for me as a non chocolate person it will work for other people who love chocolate.”
Paul’s passion for cooking started off 25 years ago when he made a banana jalfrezi.
These days he keeps his sense of flavour alive and customer interest strong by producing 24 limited edition chocolate bar flavours each month.
Initially he began a promo package of a new bar a month producing 24 which were gone within a couple of days.
Paul said: “When it sells it’s gone. The average time for them all to be sold is a day and a half. Now we are producing 24 bars in 24 packs. They are limited edition flavours such as blue lady earl grey tea, black line and cinnamon.
“It’s to keep the freshness going for customers. We have customers coming in saying, ‘Have you got your new flavours out yet’?
“It makes it enjoyable for me because I’m not just stood here churning out 45 to 50 kilos a day.”
In order of preference Paul’s best sellers at Choc Amor are salt caramel, orange jalfrezi and salt liquorice.
He has a way of making the flavours hit at different points while customers are tasting the chocolate.
As part of the experience he hopes to make videos to explain to people how to eat their chocolate and what they should be tasting when.
Giving a customer a cube of orange jalfrezi, one of Choc Amor’s biggest award winners, Paul says: “Chew to break down the full flavour, starting with intense chocolate orange, followed by high notes of cardamom, then ginger and then a little heat at the back of your throat from the curry.
“The sweetness you’re tasting down the side of your mouth is pink Himalayan salt.
“The curry is now getting stronger, but there’s still a background taste of orange.”