From the Caribbean to Cambridge

The name might conjure images of cobbled Parisian backstreets and the waft of buttery cocoa, but the story of Hotel Chocolat begins a little closer to home.

Founded just outside of Cambridge in 1993 by cocoa grower Angus Thirlwell and business partner Peter Harris, Hotel Chocolat’s products have grown into some of the most-gifted in the country.

As the only UK chocolatier to grown its own cocoa on the sunny island of St. Lucia, some 4,000 miles away, Hotel Chocolat is not only beautifully self-contained, but also the traceability fan’s dream.

Year-round, shoppers float into Hotel Chocolat, drawn in by the promise of free samples, and by the stunning displays of chocolate artwork, expertly crafted by its master chocolatiers into everything from bars and buttons, to magnificent slabs and colourful boxed selections.

At Easter, the company, which officially opened its first Hotel Chocolat store in 2004, releases a new line of Tate Modern-worthy chocolate eggs, often too beautiful to smash into little pieces.

Become a chocolate maestro

Such has been the success of Hotel Chocolat, which now boasts over 80 stores - some with cafes - and two restaurants, that the company offers access to its own School of Chocolate, where you can learn how to make bars the Hotel Chocolat way - or just scoop it melted from the counter with your hands.

The £70 million profits the brand enjoyed in 2013, are thanks in part to the sound business experience of its founders.

Children’s parties are also catered for, and if you really, really love chocolate, you can even stay at the company’s retreat on the Rabot Estate in St. Lucia.

From bits to beans

There’s no magical Willy Wonka-esque backstory to Hotel Chocolat, though. The £70 million profits the brand enjoyed in 2013, are thanks in part to the sound business experience of its founders.

Back in the early 1980s, Thirlwell and Harris worked together at Torch Computers, a Cambridge-based company which became famous for supplying peripherals for the BBC Micro, a microcomputer designed in Cambridge which would later be introduced to over 80% of UK schools.

Harris, who brought a strong financial background to Hotel Chocolat, combined his skills with those of Thirlwell - whose father happened to be instrumental in the founding the Whippy ice-cream brand - to create a powerhouse confectionery brand to rival even the most monolithic treat makers.

In 2016, Hotel Chocolat’s flagship Cambridge store moved inside the Grande Arcade, along with a brand new cafe and double the space.  

Explore further

Meet Angus Thirwell
Hotel Chocolat on BBC News

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