There’s not a lot about chocolate that Geri Martin doesn’t know.
As a self-confessed chocoholic, she has developed her life-long addiction into a thriving business which counts royalty among its supporters.
Trading as The Chocolate Manor, Geri’s journey to full-time chocolatier began with a part-time enrolment at North West Regional College.
Searching for some ‘me-time’ after the birth of her second child, she completed a ten-week chocolate programme in 2012 and has never looked back.
“Someone told me that I would get enough out of it to start a business if I wanted to but I never once thought that would be the case. This quickly changed as the course progressed and I had my home kitchen approved before it was over,” Geri explained.
Two years later, she moved into her current premises at Sperrin Business Park in Coleraine and is enjoying continued growth and exciting opportunities.
“I started off doing filled chocolates but quickly realised that there was a demand for personalised and custom-made chocolate. I completed a sales growth programme which included a mentor for a year, and this definitely transformed the business. It was great to have someone to bounce stuff off and it was through this that I knew volume was the way forward,” she said.
Using a specialist transfer, Geri can create customised chocolate suitable for all occasions and has a growing list of corporate customers. Her retails lines include a Learn The Lingo collection, featuring some of Northern Ireland’s most loved colloquial sayings like ‘You’re a geg’ and ‘Will Ye Titter a Wit!
In 2015, Geri was selected to take part in the Pitch@Palace entrepreneurial showcase. During this ‘incredible experience’, she was able to showcase her products directly to the Duke of York and other high profile guests. And she certainly made a lasting impression as Geri has subsequently provided bespoke branded chocolate to St James’ Palace for Prince Andrew.
With support from Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council and Invest NI, Geri is leading the way with her range of retail printed chocolate bars unique across Ireland, the UK and possibly even further afield.
“I’m not aware of anyone else who retails them so they could be a world-first as well,” she said.
In another coup, Geri is the first chocolatier in Northern to work with ruby, the world’s fourth chocolate type after milk, dark and white.
With a distinctively pink hue and fruity taste it’s made from the ruby cocoa bean. Described as ‘highly unusual’, it’s been 20 years in the making by Belgian company Callebaut.
For printing reasons Geri has always favoured white chocolate but ruby along with gold (another new offering with caramel and butterscotch favours) offer exciting alternatives which have allowed her to greatly expand her repertoire.
In order to share her knowledge and love of all things chocolate, she works in collaboration with local restaurants including The Anglers Rest in Benone bringing tasting sessions to diners. Participants can try ten different types, including single-origin chocolate made from cocoa beans from one specific location.
Geri explained: “The sessions are designed to teach people how to enjoy different aromas and textures while improving their knowledge and overall experience. While a lot of us like to eat it, we are not overly well educated in terms of chocolate so it’s been great to offer these tasting opportunities.”
Looking ahead, further collaborations are planned, including a partnership with Bushmills Distillery involving both chocolate and whiskey.
Geri is hugely appreciative of the support provided by Causeway Coast and Glens Food Network and the newly formed Causeway Coast and Glens Food and Tourism Network.
“We are a small community of producers and many of us are very much ‘micro’ so to have this support means a lot. The collaborative network opens up different events and opportunities and it is exciting to be a part of it.”
To find out more go to www.thechocolatemanor.com or search The Chocolate Manor on Facebook and Twitter.