For many consumers today, understanding and appreciating the provenance of the food we eat is increasingly important and part of the buying decision-making process. Therefore, for lovers of artisanal chocolate with a farm to table story, the team behind The Chocolatiers has a great story to tell.
LoA chatted to Melanie Finch Keshwar and Ann Finch, the mother and daughter team behind The Chocolatiers to find out more.
What does your company do?
We are a tiny little artisanal chocolatier company, The Chocolatiers, and as far as we are aware, the only mother and daughter chocolatier team in South Africa. We are based in Johannesburg, and are loving every moment of it.
"We knew we wanted to make beautiful handcrafted chocolates and felt we wanted to live in a manner which made sense, and wanted to go on a journey with our chocolates, one with a conscience for both people and planet."
What inspired you to start your company?
We were inspired to start again, and do something that felt more meaningful. We knew we wanted to make beautiful handcrafted chocolates and felt we wanted to live in a manner which made sense, and wanted to go on a journey with our chocolates, one with a conscience for both people and planet. We want to build a sustainable little business which will contribute positively to job creation, to our economy and to building our country. We wanted something that we could build, our way - and, we are still discovering what this is, as it unfolds.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
We use quality ingredients, that is our non negotiable starting point. In as far as possible, our inclusions are organic, and the couverture we use is conscious of the food chain, from farmers to pickers, and ensures fair labour practices. Our product is hand made, not mass produced - we are the artisan down the road and we can trace every bit of our product, ensuring quality to our customers. We are small enough to turn around an idea in a matter of days, which is what we find with specialist corporate orders.
"Our product is hand made, not mass produced - we are the artisan down the road and we can trace every bit of our product, ensuring quality to our customers."
Tell us a little about your team
We have 2 full timers, ourselves, and a part timer who we will make a full time team member shortly. The demand is growing and we feel strongly about being a family. Christina Matshele, Ann Finch and myself have all known each other all our lives and worked together on and off for the past 17 years. It’s a family. We giggle, we stress, we create, we lie down and eat chocolate, we get back up and keep going, always with inspired movement. There is a lot to be said about being inspired towards something - we feel that with our chocolate creations. We are still learning, every day - we try not to eat all the mistakes, and we are committed to being open to hitting the ground running, embracing whatever the day might bring. We are optimists at heart and that really helps.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
We all come from different places. Ann came from a huge corporate financial background. Mel came from film industry, heading up the wardrobe department. Chrissy came from the service side of film industry, running a little costume house. We all bring the expertise we have garnered through our lives, to the party, and it makes for a really great party! We each do what we are good at. We are so grateful for the differing skill set, it covers all the bases currently.
"There is a lot to be said about being inspired towards something - we feel that with our chocolate creations."
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
We would love to stay handmade, all the way. If we have a choice between people or machinery, there is no contest - we would like to be able to train up chocolatiers to work with us. We like being local, we like treading lightly and so when we grow, we need the ethos to remain the same. We aspire to creating a work space where you are expected to have fun, are treated like family, are encouraged to learn and to grow. I think really, there are three aspects to where we see ourselves growing - the one being people; the other, chocolate; and the third, planet.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
Being tuned into the environment around us, in a positive way, taking the bits that inspire us and putting that into our chocolate. Meeting the wonderful folk who take a chance on us, buy and stock our product. The returning customers and clients make us do a little happy dance, it means they really liked our stuff! Being in control of how the day looks, working towards our own vision every day, is an immensely satisfying feeling.
"If we have a choice between people or machinery, there is no contest - we would like to be able to train up chocolatiers to work with us."
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
You don't need a loan - don't take one, if you can manage it. Start small on the side of whatever you currently do, and allow the sideline to grow to a point where it can sustain itself and later, sustain you. It is a good idea to carefully plan this route - any business takes a good few years to get onto its feet and be able to pay you a salary. Don't expect miracles, it’s many man hours and much trial and error. It’s okay to fall down - just don't stay there. It’s okay to fail, just keep moving. Be patient when the growth is slow - you are learning valuable lessons, laying a foundation. You will need all of this for what is to come, you must crawl before you can walk. In the beginning, do as much of it yourself as possible. It will soon become clear what absolutely has got to be outsourced, then outsource only that. You need to know every part of your business intimately before you can ask anyone else to do the job. Make friends with your competitors, there is enough space for everyone, its wonderful to be able to sit and discuss the industry as a whole with people who are in it.
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Why LoA loves it….
There is always something inspirational about entrepreneurs who have the ability to turn a passion into a fully fledged business venture, and particularly one that treads lightly on the earth at the same time. In the world of artisanal chocolate-making, this unique mother and daughter team are proving it is possible to achieve both and have fun too, not to mention creating delicious chocolate experiences for fans along the way. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa