• Schococoa

Schoc Wellington

Greytown is a long way from (Baghdad) but "choc and awe" sums up the approach of the town's successful chocolatier.

"We've got over 80 flavours for people to taste . . . It's the awe-factor, if you like, of the taste," said Murray Langham, owner of Greytown's Schoc Chocolates.

From small beginnings, the firm has blossomed during the last 12 years to the point that a second shop opened last week at 31 Waring Taylor St in Wellington.

There, Langham plans to repeat a successful business formula well known in Europe but less common here - the delight of a small shop given over entirely to high-powered chocolate.

Langham's business has evolved as the market has grown.

"People used to say, ‘Oh my God, I've never tasted anything so good,' because they'd never tasted proper chocolate."

His love affair with the enigmatic cocoa bean began as a child in Wellington, when chocolate and lemonade was a Saturday night treat.

While working as a chef at Harrods in London and then owning the Courtyard Cafe in Thorndon, Langham discovered some of the world's best chocolates alongside creative colleagues taking the ancient product in experimental directions.

He reinvented himself as an alternative therapist and, as a tool for reflection, began asking clients to describe themselves in terms of different types of chocolate.

This led to an idea for a book on "chocolate therapy" and to write it, Langham took a year out and moved to Wairarapa. It was there he discovered making chocolates was his calling.

"I've just been following the passion, I suppose."

The quaint, Victorian "studio" in Greytown - Langham says it's too small to be a factory - produces 200 kilograms or more of elaborately blended and flavoured chocolate a week. Langham uses up to eight 25kg cartons a week of pure chocolate, ready-made from fair trade gourmet beans grown in places such as Java and Ghana, and shipped from Belgium and Singapore.

This forms the base for original, handmade recipes involving precise blends of varieties with distinct characteristics and the addition of nuts, fruit, spices and other natural ingredients, such as his famous curry and poppadom dark chocolate.

He sells it nationwide in about 40 selected stores, which must match his fine-food ethos, and meet strict display conditions such as air-conditioning. For a while wholesale outstripped retail at the Greytown cottage until Langham recently redesigned the shop floor, installing a "library of chocolate" showcasing the myriad flavours.

Having begun with just himself and a business partner, whom he has since bought out, Langham now has a staff of 10, with another two to come in the new Wellington store. It replaces a capital outlet he closed in 2011.

After a difficult period when the business partnership broke down, Langham is enjoying calling all the shots.

"I'm the owner and I take responsibility whereas before you can just blame the other person."

The biggest advantage of a provincial base was the work ethic of people in a small town, who knew the value of a decent job.

His two books are major marketing assets, as is his work on the international "chocology" speaking and media circuit.

Annual revenue is around $700,000, expected to nudge a million this year with the new outlet, and the business is profitable, Langham said.

A chocology smartphone app is another revenue stream and Langham constantly innovates, such as with his "Schocoroni" chocolate salami with hazelnuts, almonds, raisins, apricots and pink peppercorns, and a colourful chocolate stiletto shoe for the Christmas market.

He sells to wholesalers in Australia and by mail order to customers worldwide but for now has no plans to boost exports.

"To make chocolates and taste things and talk to people about chocolate, to me that's more exciting."

THE NUMBERS

$11-$12: 75 gram tablet

$21: "Schocoroni" chocolate salami

$230: Luxury Christmas hamper

$12,000: Commercial food processor

Taken from Stuff.co.nz