10 Minutes with... North Chocolates
10 minutes with Bev Stephenson, founder of North Chocolates
What time do you start making chocolate?
I started at 8am today as the weather’s a lot cooler, which is much better. When it’s hot it’s just a nightmare as I have to get up at 4am and stop at about 10am because you just start to lose your mind when the chocolate doesn’t temper! So, normal hours can resume now.
Where did the idea to set up your own chocolate business come from?
I used to be a food writer but a few years ago it got tough and I was freelancing. I went back to college to study horticulture which I loved, but I didn’t want to stand in fields all the time. Long story short, I wanted to work from home. I love food. I love experimenting with food, and just thought there was a bit of a gap in the market.
How’s business going?
Well, it’s really funny, I just worked out yesterday what I’d sold during this week last year compared to what I’ve sold this week and I’m up by 1390 percent. Isn’t that brilliant? It’s a bit of a cheat though as it’s National Chocolate Week but I got a bit of a surprise! It’s gone better than I expected as I’m aware it’s not cheap chocolate and it’s very gifty, but people seem to love it, and for me that’s been really heartening.
What do you think is your best-selling product?
It’s difficult to tell. I went to the South Shields food festival and sold out of the Chilli and Lime and the Chilli and Salt chocolate bars every single day. I had to go back home and make more stock ready for the next day, and then it sold out again. The people of South Shields must love their chillies, it’s as simple as that! It honestly depends what kind of food fair I’m at, if there’s a lot of kids they’ll go for the Honeycomb Crunch or the Toffee Crunch, and my Ginger and Fennel is always a winner and won the best in show at the EAT! Festival this year.
So are you making any special flavours for Christmas?
I certainly am. I’m doing a Mulled Spice bar which is shamelessly Christmasy. It’s made with a dark 70 percent chocolate and cinnamon, nutmeg and orange. I’m also making a Frankincense & Myrrh bar which is a little bit spicy and just great with a glass of port on Christmas Day. This year, I’m creating a Winter Berry bar in both milk and white chocolate, and that’s got morello cherries, cranberries, hazelnuts and pistachios. It looks really beautiful with the cherries and then the greens and whites from the nuts. It’s a cracker!
Who taste tests your chocolate?
Anyone who can get their hands on it! I guess my biggest taster is me, but then I check things out and tweak things depending on what people say.
In a general working day do you eat a lot of chocolate?
I would love to work it out actually! As I make really small batches to ensure the consistency and flavour profile is right, I have to taste every batch as I go. It’s just a little taste with a spoon. I wouldn’t sit and open a bar of chocolate now. I do love my chocolate, but having a little taste every day is enough.
How many varieties of chocolate do you do?
I’ve got a core range of about 15 to 20 which sounds like a lot, but I don’t have all the varieties on offer all the time. I gauge which ones I think would go well at different food fairs, and I’ll add my seasonal flavours as well.
How many chocolate bars do you think you make in a week?
At a real push I can do 150 bars a day, so between 500 and 700 a week. It’s quite a lot, but that doesn’t include wrapping or packing them, that’s just making them.
Do you do it all by yourself?
I do most of it. My mum, who I now call my Chief Operations Packing Manager, helps me a lot with the packing and does a beautiful job — I’d be lost without her. She does a lot of the wrapping, and I do everything else. That might change, but until I get down the line a little, it’ll stay that way. I like working for myself. I don’t really want the responsibility of other people.
What’s next for North Chocolates?
I’m working on an Angel bar which I’m hoping to have out for Christmas, but after that God knows! I’ll work on different flavours. I’m looking forward to next year already and I’m going to build up the wedding side of North Chocolates. I’ve ticked things off my list but then more things just come along.