A Snapshot of Amelia’s Business Life
The Early Days
I was born to be independent and lead a team rather than follow – a definite challenge for my poor parents! As children we were fortunate but not spoilt and when it came to pocket money my father had a strict policy: go and earn it! I got to work making Christmas cakes, baby sitting, working on a potato harvester, dusting flies off the shelves at our local garage and even sold my pony’s horse manure.
My 20s and 30s were spent mainly in admin roles. I usually managed a year before I got bored and wanted to try a different industry, location or team to work with. I worked in the City for banks, West End for head-hunters, hospitals, surgeries, an oven company and many more.
The 1st business I set up was aged 17 with a local friend – ‘Helping Hands’. As soon as I passed my driving test I borrowed my mother’s car, and we were off helping with cooking and waitressing at local parties.
The 2nd business was doomed quite quickly after it started. Having qualified as a massage therapist I set up my own massage business. Within 6 months I was laid up with 2 broken arms after a bicycle accident.
Never deterred my 3rd business opportunity was as an aromatherapist. After six months training and then a six-month cancer care course, I set up my own aromatherapy business. With 9/11 and being way ahead of time with aromatherapy being mainstream I didn’t really get very far with it. Later on I was to find that this was the elixir of who I would blend my recipes and dictate using organic (food grade) aromatherapy oils in many of my products.
Being overweight until I was in my early 30s I would NEVER have wished for a business working not just in food production BUT chocolate production.
The time came in September 2007 when Amelia Rope Chocolate was officially founded.
The story of Amelia Rope Chocolate
The Stepping Stones
Key individuals who stand out in my life with getting me up and running, all in their different ways, to be Founder, Amelia Rope Chocolate are:
- John Torode & Greg Wallace and the Masterchef team when I competed in 2006 and 2007 and was pretty useless apart from winning the restaurant rounds,
- A life coach, Merry Graham, who showed me self-belief and to begin to tap my inner potential,
- William Sitwell, Editor of Food Illustrated, who I went to see to hear about how to be a food journalist,
- The late Patrick Reeves (co-founder Deliverance & sofa.com), my one and only, the chocolate diamond geezer, for commissioning the chocolate bar which would take me to market; and
- Ewan Venters, CEO Fortnum & Mason, who took my chocolate bars for Selfridges and showed me I had a brand and a contemporary chocolate bar good enough to get into one of London’s leading stores.
Finding myself competing on Masterchef not once but twice really opened up my mind to escaping the world of NHS and private practice and dive into something to do with food. My initiation into superb luxury chocolate was during a five-day chocolate course at Valrhona back in 2006 – way before anyone really knew about chocolate. I was hooked ….. it was just the same as fine wine and coffee with the terroir, types of beans, importance of production et al.
I had first aspired to being a food writer but this was not to be my calling.
Initially ARC was a small bespoke chocolate company. I made all the chocolates, award winning chocolate truffles and the unique crystallised chocolate dipped flora (rose petals, pansies, violas and mint leaves). With a smart kitchen space in Borough I quickly discovered the vital mantra of any business, large or small, of ‘cashflow’ and bills to be paid on a regular basis!
After about 6 months I gave up the space and went back to making them in my kitchen where I was living. I had learnt a huge lesson – is your product scalable and does it have the appropriate shelf life.
With no cash I began to fit in odd jobs, but when asked always said I ran a chocolate business. One job, in particular, introduced me to one of the greatest entrepreneurs I have met and who became a good friend and mentor, Pat Reeves. He employed me one day a week to look after him and his hound, Louie – a staffie from Battersea Dogs Home. (Pat always looked after street urchins as I used to tease him – me and Louie being one of many! For 2 years he told me to make chocolate bars and for 2 years my reply was ‘No – boring, dull, not me’.)
A turning point was November 2009 when Pat ignored my protestations and put in a commission for 1,000 chocolate bars to be made. He knew I would never say no to an order. Six weeks’ notice to get someone to make the bars, decide on a recipe, design packaging and for me to hand foil and sign each bar. At the busiest time of year it was a challenge. Pat’s criteria – the bar had to be dark chocolate and have kraft paper in its packaging.
I sat in his sitting room foiling each bar and signing the wrapper. I am not sure what the Food Standards Agency would have said! Delivered on time I was onto more foiling and signing as Pat paid me not in profit but in 1000 chocolate bars. These I had to go out and sell to convert into profit. Which. I. Did.
Sitting in the rafters of Pat’s garage and mice lingering down below I managed to sell them pretty quickly! Friends, families and a few small delis. I introduced my milk chocolate bar in February 2011 (Pale Edition) and on a whim dropped them off to Ewan Venters, who at that stage was Director of Selfridges Food Halls.
I was totally amazed when he emailed to say Selfridges would take them.
Finally I realised what Pat had helped me design – a product with marketability, scalability and shelf life which would appeal to retailers and also a brand which was hitting the spot with prestigious stores such as Selfridges.
I launched there in September 2010 and from there I went on to create my flavoured range and the rest is history!
Inspirations for the Recipes
The force behind my recipe combinations comes from my often demanding taste buds I possess which always hanker after exploration with taste and flavour. They are very precise which at times can require a lot of patience from the team who make my chocolate products!
What I am seeking each time when I blend the ingredients is the taste; the final taste. That. End. Note. I want it to be clean, honest and pure. A memorable flavour delight which lingers on the palate once the chocolate morsel has been devoured.
Having been 2 stone heavier than I am today I discovered if I ate foods which satisfied me with true flavour I would eat less of them.
Recent travels to Colombia, Japan and Mauritius have brought a heap of ideas for new recipes. I adore travel and if I could I would be exploring a lot of my time.
Growing my business has been incredible but one frustration which gnaws away at me every now and again is that I have less time to create and also when I do you have to take on board ….. more stock, less cash flow and more!
The story behind the packaging & design
The first chocolate bar, and the turning point with moving the business into the world of retail, was thanks to a commission from the inspirational entrepreneur, the late Pat Reeves (co-founder of Deliverance & then sofa.com).
The criteria Pat gave were: kraft paper for the packaging, a dark chocolate bar and for it to be chunky. I adore splashes of colour and so thankfully we reached a happy agreement and colour and kraft paper became one!
When I design I usually have a vision of the end product but then have to work out how to achieve the precise design. It drives many crazy as I keep pushing for the exact replica.
My chocolate bar packaging was really inspired by the colouring pencils with the colour nibs appearing at the end of a neutral pencil stem. The cube design was influenced by my love for stained glass windows and mosaics with their clear blocks of colour and the opaque flavour guide which rests on top of them to diffuse the vibrant coloured foils before you see them in their total splendour. The rest of my products have continued with this brand theme.
It is paramount that the company uses packaging which is produced mainly within the UK. From the early days I sourced suppliers in the UK and this still remains true today. The only element I import is the coloured foils.
Influential People in my DNA
- Thomas Crisp – created the Suffolk Punch horse from his Suffolk stallion
- Edward Packard – the first manufacturer of artificial fertilisers as a result of the Industrial Revolution
- Arthur Ransome – Author
- Robert Ransome – Founder of Ransomes & supplied the first powered lawn mower to Sandringham
- George Rope – artist
- Ellen Mary Rope – Sculptress & stain glass window designer
- James Wilson, Finance Secretary to the Treasure, first Finance Minister of India & Founder of The Economist
- Masterchef 2006
- Masterchef 2007
- The Market Kitchen 2008
- The Vanessa Feltz Show
Summer 2014 – Visiting No 10 as part of the GREAT campaign
June 2015 – My first article was printed in The Telegraph Weekend section on a trip to Mauritius in March
If I was not eating so much of my own chocolate: I would be eating Pierre Marcolini’s.
My favourite cheap chocolate treat: Crunchie.
My weakness: goats cheese with a burgundy.
Favourite Designer & UK design brand: Paul Smith