Creighton’s Chocolaterie and ice-cream shop, in the Bedforshire market town of Leighton Buzzard, is owned and run by a mother and daughter team, Amanda and Lucy Huntington. “It’s just the two of us running the shop,” Lucy told me. “But some of our family members help out and we also have two part time helpers, who do Saturdays and some weekdays. My mum makes the chocolates and does the finance and admin. I’m the creative side of things. Mum’s better with numbers and more efficient when it comes to making the chocolates. I take too long.”
The interior of Creighton’s – which was named after Lucy’s great grandmother, who loved to eat chocolate – is bright and well-designed with a large window at the front of the shop. The floor is dark wood, which contrasts with the white cabinets that have white and red fabric hung along the bottom.
The chocolaterie opened in May 2011. ““The idea to open a chocolaterie was my Dad’s idea. I’d always wanted to open my own shop, so the two ideas just came together. We had no fears about opening the shop during a recession,” Lucy said. “It won’t last forever, I am sure, and people will always want to buy chocolate. They won’t buy as much perhaps, as when the economy is strong, but they will buy some for a treat. We have something different to offer, which people are willing to spend money on. We’re also careful with our pricing. If we know that we wouldn’t spend that much money on whatever we’re selling, then we won’t price it that high.”
In the year the shop has been opened the business has grown rapidly. “It has grown a great deal,” Lucy explained. “More than we thought it would. We’re planning to open a new shop sometime in the future. We’ve started doing wedding favours, chocolates for corporate events, wholesale for other shops, chocolates for press events, workshops in the chocolate shop, and we started making and selling ice cream this summer. We chose Leighton Buzzard because it’s local to us. We saw the shop back when it was a bakery. Then when the bakery shut down, we took the chance. It was perfect, because it was ready to go as a food shop. There are also lots of small independent shops in Leighton already, so our shop fits into the environment. It was a good place to start off. It’s small and there is little pressure here.”
I asked Lucy what sort of people they got in the shop. “We get a good mix, and many are mums with very young children. We also get retired older people, who want dinner party gifts. We get very few children, because they usually want pick ‘n’ mix sweets.”
Lucy told me that business in the shop is seasonal. It’s busy there between Christmas and Easter, which is the big chocolate period. Then during the summer they have an increase in big online orders for occasions such as weddings.
The business was started with a love of the product and an interest in learning all about it. Lucy told me, “We’ve always liked chocolate – everyone does. I already had an interest in baking. Chocolate is a kind of enigma: no one exactly knows how it’s made really, which was the challenge of the whole venture. We decided not to have a cake shop, because you have to sell those kinds of products on the day they are made. And so many people make and sell cakes. You can be more creative with chocolate and it has a longer shelf life. There aren’t many people doing it in the area, we wanted to be original and not as expensive as other independent chocolate shops.”
All the chocolate Creighton’s use in their products is Belgian, apart from the chocolate which they use in their origin bars. Lucy and Amanda like to keep things as natural as possible: all their ingredients are fresh and they only use food colourings for decoration and they make and sell their products in small, handmade batches.
Creighton’s also run workshops. They offer truffle making sessions, alchemy sessions, children’s parties and specialist courses for different times of year. “In the truffle courses,” Lucy explained “we have a small group and in the session we explain where chocolate comes from, have tastings of different types, get people to make their own truffles and get them experimenting with different fillings, dip and decorate them, before packaging them. With the workshops for children’s parties we make chocolate lollies with them, which they decorate and they also get to dip honeycomb in chocolate. There is lots of chocolate eating! The seasonal workshops include one for making Easter eggs and we have a Valentine’s Day one. They are all very popular – we do a lot of children’s parties, but we also offer vouchers for the truffle workshops, so those are popular after the times of year when people give gifts.”
Creighton’s are best known for their quirky designs: their most famed products are their chocolate moustaches and their edible chocolate boxes. I asked Lucy how she comes up with her ideas for new products. “I think about what people like and what already exists. Our raspberry ripple bars for example – raspberry ripple ice cream already exists and we like it, so we made it into a bar. We take things that already exist and then work them into chocolate. I look at food blogs and on the internet for inspiration. We like to take savoury things and turn them into chocolate, like our chocolate fish and chips and the chocolate burger. We have our own kitchen so we can start making the chocolates straight away – we don’t have to wait three or four weeks for someone else to make and deliver them to us. We like taking old and traditional things and giving them a new twist.”
Creighton’s newest venture is their ice cream, which they only started selling this summer. “It’s selling very well, especially in this hot weather! We wish we had done it last year. Chocolate doesn’t sell as well in the hot weather, so it’s good to have an alternative when comes to the changing seasons and adapting to what people want. We sell hot chocolate in winter.”
With the business growing at the rate it is, I asked Lucy where she thought they would be in five years’ time. “Dead from exhaustion most probably! Well, hopefully we’ll have some more shops, still be active in production and keep thinking up constant new things, changing and adding new things to our line of products. We would like to have some shops in the bigger local towns, such as Berkhamsted, but we’ll keep to the same area, perhaps with the exception of London. I’d like to have a shop there, but we’re not ready for that yet.”
As I wandered around the shop taking photos, I had a chance to have a good look at the products. There were chocolate fish and chips, a build-you-own burger, where every layer was (of course) made from chocolate, chocolate Southern fried chicken drumsticks, dozens of chocolate bars, chocolate slabs, chocolate pizzas, a toothbrush and toothpaste made out of chocolate, chocolate moustaches, chocolate teeth dentures, chocolate covered honeycomb, chocolate covered pretzels….The variety was astonishing.
I returned to the shop in the evening to participate in one of their truffle workshops and to join in the celebrations for the shop’s first birthday. Amanda was running the workshop for four customers of the shop and began by explaining where chocolate is grown, how it develops from a cacao pod full of beans into the bars we eat. The group then made a chocolate ganache using cream and dark chocolate, which was then transferred into a piping bag and refrigerated. The group was then given the chance to taste different types of chocolate from various cacao growing regions of the world, working their way down from a 90% cacao solids chocolate to a white chocolate. The ganache then came out of the fridge and the group set to work piping their truffles onto greaseproof paper. These were placed back into the fridge to chill further and the group and I went into the shop to join the birthday celebrations, the food for which included white chocolate dipped strawberries, a chocolate and peanut butter swirl tray, a chocolate fondue with marshmallows and pretzels to dip into it. Celebratory drinks were being passed around, as was the ice cream.
After about fifteen minutes, the group headed back into the kitchen to continue the workshop. Amanda gave a demonstration on how to temper chocolate, showing the perfect temperature to heat the chocolate and then its tempering on a marble slab. The group was then reunited with the cold truffles, rolled in cacao powder, before dipping them in the tempered chocolate and decorating them. The workshop ended with the members packing their truffles into bags and taking them home. It took a great deal of restraint not to eat the entire contents of the bag on the journey back.
Creightons Chocolaterie : www.wearecreightons.com
Follow the team on Twitter: @wearecreightons