Artisan chocolatier Geri Martin has just collected the keys to open the door to a new direction for her small business which will create Northern Ireland’s first chocolate experience centre.
Work on the development of a new chocolate workshop and visitor centre in her Coleraine home town will get underway in the near future and should be open to
sweet lovers later in the year.
The unique centre will feature a workshop space for making luxury chocolates as well as for education programmes and tastings. It’s also intended to be an attractive venue for schools and groups of all kinds to gather, to learn about chocolate and mould their own.
Geri, who founded and owns Chocolate Manor, a small and hugely successful business specialising in what she describes as “indulgent, delicious, creative and personalised chocolates as well as bespoke chocolate experiences”.
“It’s been my dream for years to create a unique experience centre as part of my small chocolate production enterprise,” she explains. “Opening the chocolate hub will be a dream come true and will also offer another tourist attraction within the successful Taste Causeway network created by the Causeway and Glens Council to increase earnings from the area’s impressive growth in experience tourism.”
Geri, a mum of two young children, was among a small group of artisan food and drink producers here to be part of The Open, last year’s immensely successful golf championship at Royal Portrush. She created chocolates for the iconic event for sale in the golf shop and other retail outlets. The invitation to shape chocolates for The Open was recognition of Geri’s passion for quality chocolate production and encouraged the skilled chocolatier to bring forward her experience centre plans.
All her chocolates use premium ingredients and are moulded by Geri’s skilled hands. They feature a hand printing process that enables her to create chocolates to the requirements of individual customers seeking, for example, to use corporate brands or names on the product. The novel printing technology is an extension of her experience handcrafting shapes such as shoes, handbags, cowboy boots, as well as a range of other novelty items created in the finest Belgian chocolate.
She’s part financing the imaginative scheme by means of a ‘ChoccyDream Maker’ crowdfunding campaign which invites chocolate aficionados to invest in her enterprise and help her raise the £5,000 needed to create the unique workshop and experience hub for visitors to learn about chocolate. Donors to the campaign receive a range of attractive ‘perks’ for their confidence in her business acumen and skills.
“The existing success of the venture has enabled me recently to employ local staff to help us grow the business even further,” continues Geri. “I also intend to share my enthusiasm and love of fine chocolate through interactive, educational and indulgent chocolate experiences, including making sessions and tastings for individuals and groups of all ages and sizes. I’ve launched this funding project to allow me to share my love of great chocolate with even more people. I have outgrown our current production space. The new hub will not only allow us to continue to make our very popular products, but also to welcome visitors and those from abroad who want to learn about, make, taste and experience everything chocolate has to offer.”
She’s already launched a series of fund raising activities throughout the Causeway region for adults and children keen to work with and enjoy their own artisan chocolate bars. Geri set up the small batch chocolate venture in November 2012 on the back of a successful career in product marketing, advertising and public relations. Her strategy has been to create innovative and handcrafted chocolate products that are different in flavours and shapes from other chocolatiers.
She originally launched the business as a home kitchen-based enterprise on a part time basis and has since moved into a fully-equipped production unit which she’s
now outgrown. She has been assisted in developing the small business by the food innovation team at the North West Regional College in Londonderry.
Among novel ideas she has developed is an international ‘chocolate board’ on which every item was handcrafted from Belgian chocolate.
“I created a map of New Zealand, a Paris inspired board with the Eiffel Tower, golf, football and dog themed boards. I realised that I wanted my business to create chocolates that would surprise and delight and I began to focus on developing it in that way,” she concluded.
While the innovative creations were initially designed for events and as corporate gifts, interest from retailers and individual customers led her to expand the business.
An e-commerce site accelerated growth. She’s ready for the next step. While the crowdfunding drive, she says, is “going really well”, but there are still other
opportunities for donors to share in her tasty dream.