The art of creative confectionery
The lovely market town of Louth is famed for its large number of independent and specialist shops and Tracey Cox’s mouthwatering business is certainly no exception.
The Little Chocolatier blends in perfectly with the historic surroundings and it is nothing less than the rainbow’s end for all chocoholics. I had studied the website in some depth before I visited the premises, but I was nonetheless absolutely amazed at the quality and artistry of the products in the shop.
As Tracey gave me a potted history of her career in the food industry, she surprised me slightly by informing me that her initial venture into the workplace was by way of a bakery. She enjoyed the work to such a degree that she embarked on college courses whilst gaining valuable experience in the bakery and patisserie. Qualifications and an abundance of enthusiasm brought about her first move out of the area to her next position with The Royal Berkshire Hotel – a Hilton establishment in Ascot. For two years Tracey was employed as patisserie chef and she gained a wealth of knowledge from the hotel’s resident French chef. Then, moving back to a hotel in Louth, and by taking more courses, all paid for by herself, she began to diversify into chocolate confectionery with all its associated specialist products.
Tracey continued her training in Manchester and she readily points out that it was one John Slattery of Slattery’s in Manchester who became instrumental in the formulation of her new career structure and business direction. An award-winning master baker and a chocolatier himself, Slattery became responsible for transforming her into the artisan that she has now undoubtedly become. With beginnings born of superb replicas of ladies shoes in chocolate, and with collections of the most superlative handmade chocolates, the new business called The Little Chocolatier came into being. Only the finest ingredients are used and everything is locally produced with the exception of the chocolate, which is the very best Callebaut. It is a very appealing shopfront and whilst not situated directly on the main shopping street, it is tucked away with other shop businesses along a narrow, quirky thoroughfare with the somewhat beguiling name of Pawn Shop Passage.
The business is relatively new, having opened in November 2010, but Tracey was slightly tongue-in-cheek as she reminded me that this was right in the middle of the recession. It may have been something of a risk, she agreed, but hers is a niche market and everyone just loves good quality chocolates now and again. Following on from the bespoke chocolates and handmade chocolate shoes, other products were soon introduced. Easter eggs and special items for Mother’s Day became features of this successful new venture. So, too, other accessories from the female wardrobe. Matching chocolate hats and handbags came along, all in assorted colours and patterns – and all of course the products of Tracey’s vivid and ever expanding imagination.
New lines are being showcased continually and at the time of my visit, the display of cakes alone in this shop was stunning to say the least. An array of hand-sculpted chocolate gateaux, some reaching a couple of feet in height and made to cater for any event is surely the greatest tribute to this chocolatier’s artistry. Tracey proudly informed me that no occasion is impossible to cater for and, after a consultation, she can deliver anything that is requested. Some take longer than others to make, of course, and the prices are reflected accordingly. Chocolate ‘truffle trees’ are a creation unique to Tracey’s business. These are standing trees in which the foliage is made up of many truffles of various flavours. Some trees are filled with champagne and strawberry, some with Bailey’s Irish Cream and some with coffee and caramel. In all cases, the end product is delivered with a large helping of the ‘wow’ factor and this has decidedly become Tracey’s stock in trade. Chocolate fountains are available here for sale or rent and these, too, are guaranteed to be the focus of much interest as centrepieces.
Other centrepieces – for weddings and all social occasions – and bespoke designer cakes, along with all the accessories and matching favors can all be made to order. I asked if all the sale items were manufactured locally in Louth. She told me that her ‘chocolate room’ was situated in Burgh Le Marsh and that everything she manufactured there had to be transported to Louth. I had begun to wonder whether there were enough hours in the day for Tracey’s punishing schedule but when she told me that she had now branched into wholesale and supplying to the hotel trade too, I was totally bewildered.
In between manufacturing her stock and running the business side of things, Tracey somehow finds the time to attend a wedding fair most weekends between September and Christmas and also January to March. Plans for the future are being put in place continually with new ideas frequently being suggested by her large customer base. She told me that at any one time she has up to fifty new ideas buzzing around in her head. Currently there are well over 500 different items for sale on the stock lists.
I visited the shop just before Easter when eggs ruled the roost, but immediately after the holiday a new range of dark, handmade chocolates will be introduced with the most luscious sounding centres. Not only this but, later on in July, Tracey will be rolling out another new business plan as she prepares to launch into the production of soft scoop Lincolnshire ice cream. There will be many different flavours and all will be produced with locally supplied ingredients. Spin-off ideas are already forming as she considers the supply of the ice cream at wedding receptions and other outdoor venues from a vintage handcart!
This chocolate heaven in Louth does need staff to run it of course and June and Sarah, two part-time employees, have become invaluable with their extensive knowledge and expertise. All customers are listened to and their requests and suggestions followed up wherever possible. As Tracey pointed out, her business is exclusive and as an artisan chocolatier she provides the very finest products in a hands-on environment at affordable prices. She went on to explain to me how the business of a chocolatier is not just about the melting of chocolate and pouring it into a mould. In reality it first has to be properly tempered. Storage and manufacturing conditions have to be exact and the humidity correctly monitored at all times during the process. Only then does the product deserve the creativity and individuality afforded it.
Her website is fascinating and awash with beautiful photographs but her stock list is so large that not everything is listed on the Internet! In view of this it is recommended that prospective customers and order enquiries be directed to Tracey via email or telephone. You can of course also pay a visit to the shop.