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CEO & Co-founder of Hotel Chocolat
“I count myself as one of the luckiest people around – to work every day in a business that lives by my obsessions with chocolate, true creativity and honest ingredients, and that also has a link back to my childhood in the West Indies through our cocoa estate in Saint Lucia.”
To say that Angus Thirlwell is passionate about chocolate is an understatement. As he willingly admits, it’s more of an obsession. Together with his business partner, Peter Harris, he founded Hotel Chocolat in 2004 with two specific aims for their chocolate: for it to excite the senses and for it to be widely available.
Angus religiously eats chocolate every day, tastes and approves every single recipe the company produces, and is as much at home in the development kitchen – affectionately known as the ‘inventing room’ – as he is in the boardroom or among the cocoa trees. It was a bold move to become a cocoa grower, a point underlined by the fact that Hotel Chocolat is one of very few to do so, but it was all a natural progression of Angus’ passion for chocolate.
Becoming a cocoa farmer
Fittingly for a company whose Tasting Club has seen customers having their say in its development from the beginning, Angus was inspired to guide Hotel Chocolat towards growing its own cocoa by another customer, who sent him a book she had found while tidying her husband’s study. The 1920 edition of Cocoa & Chocolate, Their History from cacao farm to Consumer told of cocoa-growing in the West Indies, and was particularly inspirational to Angus since he spent much of his childhood there.
So began an intensive search that took in several islands until Angus and Peter found the Rabot Estate in Saint Lucia, which they bought almost immediately in April 2006. There, they have led the rejuvenation of the island’s oldest cacao farm, kick-starting a ‘cocoa renaissance’ on the island in the process through the company’s innovative Engaged Ethics programme. The rare Trinitario cocoa variety grown on Rabot Estate and by the company’s Island Grower partners swiftly won a clutch of awards.
Putting the ‘Hotel’ in Hotel Chocolat
The stunning setting of the Rabot Estate cacao farm inspired Angus and Peter to open the boutique Boucan hotel and restaurant in the grounds in February 2012, to rave reviews. Boasting 14 stylish guest rooms, situated 1,000 feet above the Caribbean Sea and overlooking Saint Lucia’s iconic Piton Mountains, Boucan fulfilled Angus’ dream to create a place where luxury, wellbeing and style could come together with, of course, cocoa and chocolate.
In 2013, Hotel Chocolat became the world’s first chocolatier and cocoa grower to present a single-côte chocolate (made from a single terroir-defined grove of cocoa trees known as a côte), the Rabot Estate Marcial 70% Dark. This innovation propelled Britain to the forefront of the highly competitive super-premium chocolate market, among a dynamic field of craft American and European competition.
Later in the year saw the launch of the first cocoa cuisine restaurants from the founders of Hotel Chocolat, Rabot 1745 in London’s Borough Market and Roast+Conch in Leeds. The concept behind the restaurants is inspired by the history of cacao that Angus has so much respect for: people have adored cacao for more than 3,000 years, but only in the last 500 did that become about sweetness. Long before anyone added a grain of sugar, cacao beans were loved for their deep, savoury richness, and were roasted, shelled and eaten like nuts, and crushed for use as an infusion, garnish and subtle spice. Both restaurants took this to heart, and opened to excitement from both diners and the media.
The eateries bring three of Angus’ passions together: cacao cuisine, Hotel Chocolat gifts and treats and Rabot Estate cocoa, which is freshly roasted every day for small-batch chocolate making and innovative drinks.
A new approach to chocolate
In 2014 Hotel Chocolat unveiled another step forward: Supermilk, a chocolate with at least 65% cocoa that boasts robust cocoa depth, the smooth creaminess of milk, and even less sugar than a typical dark chocolate.
That same year, the School of Chocolate at Cocoa Vaults opened in Covent Garden, offering a world of chocolate adventures and experiences that would go on to be so successful the company would open another in Denmark in 2015.
Cookery and cafés
Now recognised restaurateurs, in 2015 the natural next step for Angus, Peter and Hotel Chocolat was to inspire guests to take cacao cuisine home with them. Cue cookbook A New Way of Cooking with Chocolate, with its unique insight into dishes that were by now award winners.
Meanwhile in Cambridge, a new café concept rolled out with the launch of the first ‘refuel station’, complete with Cocoa Whip Bar, Fuel-Up Station with brownies and snacks, Selector Library of best-loved chocolates and a flavour-matched selection of hot drinks.
More than a decade after Angus and Peter set out their initial aims – for their chocolate to excite the senses and be widely available – you can find Hotel Chocolat’s innovative luxury chocolates in their own boutiques up and down the country and through market-leading digital and club platforms – and those two goals have transpired to be just the beginning.
From growing fine cocoa in Saint Lucia and creating the world’s first single-côte chocolate to opening a hotel, cafés and restaurants, it’s clear that Angus’ passion has only grown over the years, and that he’s on a mission to put the ‘Great’ back into British chocolate.
The next chapter of growth
In recent years, Hotel Chocolat has gone from strength to strength in terms of business growth and brand reputation. The Company has a proven track record of profitability and sustainable and organic sales growth. It has also developed an increasingly strong and distinct brand built on authenticity, originality and ethical trading.
A listing on the London Stock Exchange was therefore seen as the next logical step in the company’s long-term growth strategy. As a publicly listed company, Hotel Chocolat will look to accelerate several growth initiatives already in place; in particular this will include additional investment in their British chocolate manufacturing capacity and in their continued store rollout plans. The proceeds will also be used to enhance their current digital offering, with a new website and plans to develop mobile/tablet compatibility.