Those of you who’ve been following our progress diligently over the past few years will know that at the end of 2019 we opened the Goupie Chocolate House. This was a cafe, based in Tunbridge Wells, which came about very quickly from curiosity and good timing. We thought perhaps now that the dust had settled, and we have our new GCH Partnership, it was time to tell our story!
We’d had no real intention of opening a cafe that year. We were walking through Tunbridge Wells, having just moved back to Kent, for the first time in 10 years. In Ely Court, we noticed all the windows of the surrounding shops where blocked up, and all it said was ‘local food producers, email Hannah’. Mostly from nosyness, we sent them a quick email.
Within a few weeks, we had their team at our factory, trying our quickly devised menu and telling us about their plans. The opportunity was too good to not try. We had always talked about opening a cafe unit, we knew what we wanted to do, and the deal was low-risk. Within 2 months of this meeting we were up and running. This was in October 2019.
Our first 2 months of trading were amazing. We had a few very small teething issues regarding opening hours (our deal required us to open late with the other units which didn’t work) and refining a few recipes (we made pretty much everything in-house as it was all vegan and we weren’t happy with any bought options), but other than that it pretty much went off without a hitch. Of course, we were delighted, but we also had it in mind that January and February were likely to be much quieter and so we braced for the storm. Little did we know that the storm was to come in the form of Covid-19 and be much longer than anyone could have expected!
As a small business, we were able to respond very quickly to the changes, and we devised a Room Service option which required us driving around Tunbridge Wells on weekend mornings delivering breakfast. When allowed to open, we did so as much as we could to remind people that we were here, knowing that we hadn’t had long to settle in. We gained some really lovely, and loyal customers, and although we weren’t able to cover our start-up costs as quickly as we’d have liked, on a day-to-day operational level we were still breaking even.
Sadly, the company we were sub-renting from didn’t fair quite so well, and they had to leave at the end of 2021. This left us searching for a new deal at a time when finding staff was hard, and uncertainty was high. We didn’t want to risk our staff being out of work and we also couldn’t afford to lose them whilst we were deciding what to do. In January 2022 we decided that we weren’t prepared to take on a new deal at such a time, and that we’d rather focus on our supply side. We felt this was best for our staff, who found other work instantly, and for us as a business. Best of all, it lead us to creating the Goupie Chocolate House Partnership!
One of our biggest hits at the Chocolate House had been our hot chocolates. We’d offered these in a make-your-own style, offering customers a choice of milks, chocolates and flavours. We’d already started selling these as retail products, after seeing what a positive reception they were getting, but we wanted to go a step further. Every decent cafe uses a speciality coffee and a speciality tea supplier. More often than not, they were then using Cadbury’s hot chocolate. We spotted a gap for speciality hot chocolate and so the partnership was born!
As it turns out, we were bang on the money, as a number of other speciality hot chocolate companies have been making their way onto the market in the past few years. As far as we know, we’re the only one offering a completely vegan and made-to-order menu, and we think there’s room for all of us!
We’re so excited about our new Goupie Chocolate House Partnership, and we wouldn’t change the journey for anything! Now we have first-hand experience of how our hot chocolates work in the sector and can use this with our long-term experience for supplying customers. If you’ve got a coffee shop, cafe, pub or hotel nearby who you think could use a little upgrade to their hot chocolate game, send them our way!