7th August 2017

Founder: Chris Sibthorp & Natalie Sibthorp

In the last 18 months, Chris and Natalie Sibthorp’s bespoke chocolate business and patisserie Eponine has been going from strength to strength, with all 10 of its individual chocolates scooping prizes in the 2017 Academy of Chocolate Awards.

But as many home business owners will know, success brings unforeseen challenges as well as exciting opportunities. For Chris and Natalie, Academy recognition has necessitated some tweaks to their product line: “As we’ve won awards, it’s pinned down products that have gone on the permanent menu.”

This shift from a totally artisanal, experimental business to a recognisable core product line is one of many challenges that Chris and Natalie are experiencing as they go through the process of ‘stepping up’ – taking a thriving home business and moving it to the next level.

Stage one is to invest in new packaging to develop their handmade items into “shelf ready” products. Stage two is the hunt for a retail outlet, where Eponine can become a fully-fledged patisserie in which the scientific chocolatiers can continue their innovative production processes beyond their home kitchen.

But as for fledgling birds, fledgling businesses can face some nerve-wracking leaps into the unknown with minimal security. And for Chris and Natalie, this transitional stage hasn’t always been easy. They’ve opted not to look for investment funding, instead “living on toast and beans while we reinvest what should go into our pay packet”. Running the business in this way may have been hard, but they have maintained high product quality and this has led to winning a number of awards, including Academy Gold Awards for their Gianduja Drinking Chocolate and their Peanut and Raspberry individual chocolate.

Looking towards stepping up, Chris and Natalie are excited about the opportunities that will come with a retail outlet – not only for the business, but for their personal lives as well. A chocolate lab in the kitchen may sound appealing, and it has enabled Chris and Natalie to develop a shared interest and grow this into an award-winning business; but the newly-married team are looking forward to reclaiming their home from the demands of branded packaging and food thermometers, so that they can enjoy it as a place to relax and unwind.

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