Islington’s chocolate business booming despite tough economic climate

An Islington business success story celebrates its sixth birthday this week amid a background of economic turbulence.

Paul A Young set up his own handmade chocolate shop in a significantly less gentrified Camden Passage in 2006.

Since then, he has been named World Chocolatier of the Year several times and now owns three thriving chocolate shops across the capital.

His loyal clientele keeps coming back not only for the quality of his products but for the constantly changing stock – with new recipes appearing on a weekly basis and all the chocs made fresh on the premises.

He has lovingly created some truly unusual recipes over the years – the Marmite truffle has been a big seller and the carrot cake, sea salt caramel and Soreen malt loaf flavours have proved popular.

Now, having finished his busiest week of the year – Easter –the team can take stock before the summer and Mr Young spoke to the Gazette about how it all began.

He said: “I wanted to bring fresh chocolate to London with no machines or preservatives at all – everything natural and homemade.

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“It was just a happy chance we ended up in Camden Passage. I was just walking down and saw a shop to let. There had been an offer from someone who wanted to open a wine shop but the building was owned by a temperance society, so they were never going to go for that.

“There was nothing else really here when we opened. The Breakfast Club came a year afterwards, but it’s like a neighbourhood now.

“We have three shops but we still do everything by hand. I am not saying that it tastes better than machine-made chocolate, but we started out that way and we want to carry on.

“We’re branded as such and it’s on all our merchandise. A lot of chocolatiers start off with handmade but go mechanised when they expand – we are the only one to stay completely handmade on the premises.”

Mr Young says that this attention to detail, along with a cheeky creative spark, are the reasons why the business is thriving during years when many others have fallen by the wayside.

“It’s really hard to start up a business now,” he said. “Most of them fail in the first year, but now people are beginning to realise we are here to stay.

“They said we couldn’t do it, but we have grown organically. There were two of us to start with and now we have 25 employees. We respect our customers, talk to them in the shop and offer them something different. We are like a bakery or a restaurant. We make stock fresh every day, so people come in to see what’s new.

“Some people have been coming in every weekend since we opened – it’s become part of their weekend ritual

“It’s all about getting people excited and experimenting with chocolate.”

Mr Young’s concoctions certainly are experimental – he and his team meet to discuss ideas and flavours, coming up with such memorable mixtures as beef jus chocolate and parsnip, apple and marmite flavours.

He says no combination is too weird – it’s about getting the balance right.

So what’s next for Islington’s captain chocolate?

“We will be busy for the next few weeks replenishing stock but then we reach a plateau. Then things are more relaxed in the summer – we like the summer as we always make our own ice cream, which flies out the door.

“Then before you know it we have to start getting the new range ready for the autumn.”

It seems the work of a master choc-maker is never done – but with multiple awards in the bag, an acclaimed book about to go into paperback and three thriving businesses, the hard graft seems to have been more than worth it.