Local Spotlight: Melt Chocolates, W11
Interview by Annabelle King, West London Mum, March 5, 2013
Following a career in fine art at Christie’s, Louise Nason opened her chocolate shop Melt Chocolates in Notting Hill in 2006. Melt now has concessions at Selfridges and Harrods and in 2011 Louise co-authored ‘Melt: A Book of Chocolate’.
After ten years living in W11, Louise now lives in Hampshire with her husband and four young children.
What inspired you to start Melt?
After having four children, I thought anything would and could be easier! My love of cooking and chocolate in particular led me to open Melt in Notting Hill. I lived in the area for over 10 years. There was very little good chocolate 6 years ago. I really wanted a vibrant working kitchen where all the chocolate was handmade using fantastic quality ingredients– the chocolate world has blossomed and there is a very vibrant scene in the UK now.
What makes Melt unique?
It is a British, family run company – we make all our fresh chocolates everyday. We maintain very high standards from the ingredients all the way through to the packaging – everything is designed in-house. We were the first to have an open plan kitchen – we encourage people to get involved and learn about chocolate. I think we broke away from the chi-chi and cold atmosphere of some chocolate stores, looking back now – we really broke the mould and created a very exciting, vibrant store.
Tell us about Club Melt, a chocoholics Club!
This is an opportunity for chocolate lovers and fans of Melt to get our new recipes first! We send our latest products and any new recipes once a month.
You also run Mini Melt for children – what is it?
Yes, as mentioned above we were the first to run childrens classes. I believe that it is essential to eat and enjoy good quality chocolate. Quality chocolate , high in cocoa can be good for you – it’s really important children understand the good from the bad and develop a good palate. Our classes can be a history, geography and cookery lesson all in one!
What challenges have you faced in your business?
Everything! You need stamina and optimism to keep going – I have experienced very little, if no support being a small business.
Can you offer any advice to women with children setting up their own business?
I would thoroughly recommend it – self-confidence can be lost after having children and starting something up or getting an idea going, however small, can be of enormous importance to your confidence and well being – although it is added stress too! This will also show your children a good work ethic (hopefully!!?)
What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
Waking up in the middle of the night with an idea – and then seeing it physically in the shop or our concession at Selfridges. Seeing customers ecstatic expressions when they try our chocolate, collaborating with chefs like Mark Hix and other creative types – and last but not least the streams of praise for our chocolatiers incredible creations, a mother stopped me in the car park just at the weekend to tell me how divine Melt fresh chocolates are!
What’s your personal favourite chocolate recipe?
At the moment Vanilla Bonbon and Salted Praline Cup.
How do you balance worklife and children?
I’m not sure if I do – it’s spinning plates. One or t’other of my children have been ill since last Thursday – so everything goes pear-shaped. You have to be incredibly calm! On a positive note running you own business does allow you to take time off with your children when you want to – I would never want to miss important school events or matches. Having a very messy husband doesn’t help – but he’s really good with the children!!
Sweet success: Building an empire from chocolate
BY Becky Anderson, CNN, July 10, 2012
Step aside, Willy Wonka. According to its creator, Vosges chocolate is not just chocolate, it's "an experiential chocolate story-telling vehicle that's meant to be indulgent and sensual and opening to the mind."
More than that, 38-year-old company founder Katrina Markoff intends to "break down stereotypes through chocolate."
Having traveled around the world, Markoff's goal is to get people to try the exotic flavors she discovered, something that's more achievable if those flavors are enrobed in chocolate.
Among her best-selling items is a truffle collection that includes sweet Hungarian paprika and Chinese star anise, fennel and pastis confections.
While chocolate with once-unusual ingredients like chilli or sea salt is now increasingly commonplace, when Markoff first tried selling her product to department store Nieman Marcus in Chicago in 1998, she recalls "the guy looking at me like I'm crazy when I'm telling him what's in it."
But today, Markoff's product sells through 2,000 outlets worldwide, and in eight dedicated boutiques. Last year, her business made $30 million, up 50% on the previous year.
This year, she has brought the Vosges experience to a mass market, launching a new, less expensive brand that will sell in places like Walmart and Target. Where a box of 16 Vosges truffles costs $40, a 2oz bar of Wild Ophelia, which features flavors such as beef jerky and BBQ potato chips, is $3.99.
A Vanderbilt University chemistry and psychology major, Markoff moved to Paris upon graduating, to study cuisine and patisserie. On the advice of renowned chef Ferran Adrià, who ran what was regularly described as the world's greatest restaurant, El Bulli, in Spain, Markoff toured Southeast Asia and Australia.
In keeping with her international perspective, Markoff plans to devote her next few years to cultivating cacao in Haiti, and opening a lodge in Belize where tourists can learn about chocolate making.
Here, she tells CNN about how she came up with her winning concept.
On her first chocolate epiphany ...
I had my first chocolate experience in the Place des Vosges (in Paris). I went to this restaurant called L'Ambroisie and they had taken chocolate ganache (which is like the center of the truffle), they froze it and dipped it in a beignet batter and fried it.
That experience of eating this donut-crusty exterior and, when you bit down, this molten explosion of chocolate ... that started piquing my curiosity about chocolate.
On her second chocolate epiphany...
It wasn't until I got back from my trip and moved to Dallas to get a job with my uncle that I realized there was no innovation going on in chocolate.
He wanted me to find chocolate for his catalog business, and (everything) was just loaded with sugars and artificial flavorings and extracts and wax, and there was no story.
I had all these spices from my travels, and this necklace from the Naga tribes in India. (They told me it was made out of shells, turns out it was all tigers' teeth). There was a lot of struggle over territory and missionaries tried to get them into new religions, and I was just like "we shouldn't kill culture like that."
I went into my kitchen that night and made a curry and coconut truffle. I decided to pay homage to the Naga people and call it Naga.
Everything made sense in that moment: there was this illuminated path that said "just use chocolate as a medium to tell stories."
I ended up working on 20 different flavor profiles that night -- saffron with white chocolate and sugar crystals to represent Gaudi's mosaic work, a Hungarian paprika and chocolate ginger -- all based on my travel experiences.
The next day I went into work and brought this collection of chocolates. Dallas in 1997 was still very much a BBQ town, and these people were like "I am not trying that curry thing."
I got one woman to try it. She took a bite and her face went from disgust and worry to awe and surprise to "Oh my God, this is actually good." She was like "let me try wasabi." She was totally open to try whatever, and it was really, really cool to see that.
On how to succeed ...
I think it's really important for women to have confidence in her individuality and not try to conform to being someone she thinks she needs to be, to compete in the legal world or in the corporate world.
It's so important to find your own voice. People respect it so much. People are very attracted to people who are passionate in their own way, that are respectful, but that are smart and speak their mind.
You have this guiding light within yourself. Always go to that as your sounding board and your voice of truth. Follow that instinctual space in your solar plexus -- you know, that place that says what you need to do is right or wrong. Following that gut instinct is so critical. You have to have your little niche and carve it out and then follow it with all your heart and success will come to you.
On her management style ...
I've been told I can be a little "big picture" for some people, because I think things can get done very quickly and I want them done very quickly.
I don't rely on other people's opinions or consumer research to make new products, which is somewhat unusual ... I don't always follow processes. I skip steps, and I always make last-minute changes -- and usually that's the right thing to do.