ChoccyWoccyDooDah Was Born From Drinking Gin: An Interview
Brighton is home to many things. Wonderful independent shops, a football team with a very loyal fanbase, an abundance of vegan and vegetarian restaurants and a small, unknown chocolate shop called ChoccyWoccyDooDah. I am of course joking when I say unknown, the chocolate shop has gained worldwide fame after being the star of its very own reality TV show. Bjournal were lucky enough to interview Henry, who has starred on the show and knows the ins and outs of the business. We arrived early, and were taken upstairs to their cafe where we were offered a complimentary hot drink. Henry then took us to the garden. Walking through a gate to be greeted by dozens of gorgeous sculptures-sorry, cakes-, a tiny shed with garden tools, and plush chairs. Having never been in before, I could already tell that they didn’t do things by halves. With our coffees in hand, we began to chat.
How did this whole thing start?
The whole concept of [name] came about when the two business partners Christine and Christine were living in London. They both had corporate jobs and didn’t like them, so they ran away to Brighton and opened a café on Middle Street. The café was a savoury café, it only sat about ten people, but it was their escape from the world. There was a tiny shop next to them that went up for sale and they bought the lease. Only when they had signed the papers did they realise that it had to be kept as a shop and it couldn’t be an extension for their café so they got drunk on gin and were like ‘what do we do with the shop?’ and they thought if they were going to have any sort of shop it would be a chocolate shop. They already sold cakes in their café and they sorted combining chocolate with the cake because they had never quite done that before. The first day the cakes sold and they were the most popular, and they started getting quite a loyal fan base, loyal customers at least. They’ve been doing that ever since, and that was about twenty one years ago.
Have the cakes and chocolate always been this elaborate?
They’ve always been decadent and over the top. Because it was born in escapism, and running away to the bohemian Brighton and it’s a party town and a town of excess in every which way. The cakes and what the sculptors have been able to do with chocolate has developed over the years and the Christines developed the way to sculpt the chocolate the way that we do it and that’s our closely guarded secret that nobody knows.
The two Christine’s, after about ten years, they moved away from the kitchen and though they are still very much involved, they are much more about controlling the company. It’s got so big with two shops and an online shop, and because of the TV show it’s become a worldwide thing, so they are concentrating more on brand management. Christine Garett makes sure everyone gets paid, Christine Taylor makes sure the visual side of the company is going in the right direction and we’re promoting and saying the right things. They still have a very close eye on the consultation team and see how they’re doing and make sure they understand the brand and the designs. On the other side, the guys in the studio and how they are making them, and making sure they’re making them right. To be honest, the team we’ve got in the studio have been with us for so long they barely need management.
How did the shop get involved in making the TV show?
Three companies approached us all at the same time. We went with the one that got us the most, which was 24. They are based in Plymouth and they basically wanted to make a British version of the American style cake shows like Cake Boss. The interview is halted when Henry asks one of the lovely café staff for a ‘tipping pot’. I am asked what my favourite chocolate is, milk, white or dark. Let’s start your black Friday with a sugar rush! So, the TV people came to us and it was really weird when they started filming the first series because it was like ‘what are they filming?’
How long did it take to get used to being filmed?
We’re still trying to get used to it. The directors didn’t intend to make a career out of making chocolate and none of us working here really intended to get filmed for a documentary, we just work in a shop and a café and a little place of dreams. It’s a little bit strange, for all of us, we’re starting to get used to how things come across on the TV.
Yeah, partly because I have to. When the TV show is edited, we watch the shows and make sure that everything is good and that they haven’t shown anybody in a bad light or anything that can be construed in a bad light. At the end of the day, we have fifty employees and they are our main concern and before anything goes on television we want to make sure everyone seems at their best. Even when they aren’t at their best, that’s up to us to tell them off not the British, or worldwide public. So we watch it, it’s interesting but strange. It will be nice when I watch it back in a few years’ time, but at the minute it’s strange. We were filming yesterday and it’s odd when somebody puts a camera in your face, I thought I would be a great TV persona but no.
How long does filming usually take?
It’s a whole intensive six month session. They only ever commission one season at a time so we don’t know when our last season will be. So it’s just full throttle, in TV mode. They started filming the first one in 2010 during Christmas and that was a three month period. There are so many contracts and legal things beforehand, but after that it’s just straight away. It has to follow a season of busy cake period, so we’re on our seventh season and it’s following the end of summer straight through to Christmas. Christmas is really busy, as is Easter. Our tipping pot has arrived. This is our chocolate tipping pot, it’s like a little fondue. There is cinnamon cracker bread, honeycomb and chocolate toffee popcorn – that is literally chocolate crack- it’s just amazing. White chocolate tiffin with coconut and cherry, brownie, milk chocolate tiffin with biscuits and raisins, strawberry’s and marshmallows and chocolate wafer sticks. There aren’t any calories in it if you eat it in the shop. And it’s basically advent so it’s a legal requirement you have chocolate for breakfast.
Are you originally from Brighton?
No I’m from Devon originally, I came to Brighton for a weekend and then never left. I think that’s why I like working at ChoccyWoccyDooDah so much because it’s totally escapist for me. It’s a weekend that’s turned into my life. It was in 2009 I came here, I had a six month period where I was couch surfing and all over the place. I got my own place and worked in a bar for a bit but then I started here about two months after. I worked in the café originally, which was wonderful because the café is a theatre of chocolate. This whole place is a whole little world and because we make each room entirely different so it feels like you’re in our world the café is the theatre. You can sprinkle glitter on a customer and take them out of the outside world. I loved just having no responsibilities and throwing glitter on people and giving them too much chocolate. Too much chocolate is a great thing because you don’t do it that often and when you do it, it’s a proper treat. You feel like you’re a kid again, and in some sort of marvellous chocolate factory, or studio.
I readily agree, as I stuff a marshmallow in my mouth. You’ve had a lot of celebrities come in and ask for cakes, what’s been the most elaborate?
A lot of the cakes we do for celebrities are hush hush and we aren’t allowed to talk about them. Normally they happen very quickly. But the one’s we can talk about are the ones we made for Elton John and David Furnish, we did Peter and Jordan’s wedding cake which was huge. It was very floral with cherubs in pastels and pinks, which was over the top and as you’d expect. We’ve done stuff for Kyle Minogue, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Tim Burton film, Rihanna, The McFly boys we did Harry and Danny’s wedding cakes. Harry Judd was a total babe he was lovely, we did a disco ball with a story of their engagement, it was very lovely. We’ve done cakes for Whoopi Goldberg and Richard Branson, they were on the TV show. For the past two seasons we’ve done cakes just for celebrities but this series we decided we would step away from that and go for real stories, and real cakes for real events. Which I think is good, when you’re having a cake it’s to celebrate something, or to bring people together. That’s the great thing about cake, you’ve either made it through something and are out of it or this is a whole new chapter, or life is good!
There’s a team, there’s three sculptors, Dave has been with us for fifteen years, and he does the big sculptures with Tom who’s been with us for eleven years I think. He does all the fine details, if we have to copy logos or do sign writing. Then there’s Mike who’s just finished a three year apprenticeship with us, he’s an incredible sculptor as well. We have two flower girls, and a backup flower boy, they do all of the flowers and butterflies and things like that. We have a team of two who do the ruffles. We’ve got a baker and his assistant and they bake all the cakes, so it’s not just the making of the front it’s quite a lot of time doing anything. One cake can easily take forty hours, with chocolate you have to work really quickly otherwise it melts in your hands.
Are all these cakes display cakes?
These are all display cakes, these are just chocolate which means they’ll last. Belgian chocolate has so much sugar and fat in it, it will preserve itself for life, which is why you shouldn’t have too much. The sculpture work you can take off and keep indefinitely. The bunny, he’s my favourite, he’s so proud of his garden.
We make a lot of Christmas cakes, a lot of them have 3D elements to them so we do Owls and Polar Bears and Squirrels which look really cute on eight inch cakes, and they make a really good centre piece for your Christmas table. We still make a lot of birthday cakes. The cake orders go up during Christmas, whereas in Easter, our busiest time, it’s a chocolate order. There are still so many more cakes than you can imagine being made in one day, but Christmas is full steam ahead. There are so many fruit and nut cakes and rum and raisin cakes being made. Tradition is tradition, but we also do chocolate, coffee, lemon and a Guinness and amaretto cake as well.
Since the TV show, has there been an increase in the people visiting the shop?
The TV show has been phenomenal in that we didn’t expect it to go all the way around the world. We have a worldwide audience, the online shop developed through this audience so people from further afield can put their orders in and have it delivered. It’s very strange that people from South Africa, Australia, Italy and New Zealand have all watched it because it’s on a primetime channel for them so when they visit England they make a little trip to Brighton to come and find us. That’s incredible, that we’re a little destination it’s wonderful. The TV show has allowed us to move to a bigger place which is good. You have to discover it here, you have to get a bit lost. That’s the best part of the laines is that you have to get a bit lost so you notice things more, and you discover things. That was my favourite thing about moving to Brighton, you never know what you’re going to find. I hope that people think that when they come in here, because it is an adventure and it should be magical and I hope it is.
Do you steal the food?
I take it upon myself to product test, and make sure that everything is up to standard. I’m now being forced to eat the ‘chocolate crack’ toffee popcorn. It’s amazing.
What’s your favourite thing about Brighton?
You can come whoever you are to the party, and you can come and be yourself. Bring something to the table and you’re welcome. There’s no judgement, you can wear whatever you want and people respect that. It’s liberating and empowering that you can feel relaxed in whoever you are.
photos belong to choccywoccydoodah