“it’s strange; we’ve a limited range in harrods, but a huge range in moscow” – stephen trigg, lauden chocolateBack
Five years ago, all Lauden Chocolate had was chocolate, and Stephen and Sun Trigg’s dedication to making the best chocolate they could. That was all they needed to start.
“When we first started our apartment turned into a mini factory,” said Stephen. “We registered for food production, and at one stage had four industrial sized fridges in there; we had one small chocolate machine, an area for all the ingredients, and we lived in the bedroom. We wouldn’t even cook, for fear of contamination. It wasn’t good for our health!”
It was good for the chocolate, though. When the bi-annual Academy of Chocolate awards came around, in Lauden’s very early days, Stephen couldn’t resist putting their chocolates to the test. “Sun was saying, no, those guys have been around for years, we’re not ready. But behind her back I entered a few chocolates anyway, just to see, and our truffle won a bronze award. It gave us the confidence that we could compete at that level.”
Interest at trade shows followed, and when buyers started asking to visit Lauden’s factory it was the impetus for Stephen and Sun to move out of the kitchen and into a unit in Leeds city centre, as a fast growing business blossomed from Stephen and Sun’s dedication.
“For our honeymoon we were supposed to go to the Maldives, but we rebooked and went to Paris instead – to go to a trade show. We walked around a trade show for five days and had one day of sightseeing. I said to Sun at the end that she owes me a honeymoon in the Maldives, but that’s the kind of lengths we’ll go to.”
Sourcing ingredients isn’t easy – finding the right Bohemian sour cherries took over a year, and “a lot of Googling,” before the right Serbian vineyard was finally tracked down; even with a larger unit, though, storage has remained a problem. Not because of space, but because of Stephen.
“We got a sample bag of chocolate made with a very rare cocoa from South America called Porcelana – when you cut open the bean it’s white inside, instead of the traditional black, hence the name. I tried it and it was fantastic, 75% cocoa but so sweet, and we decided we’d make something with it after Christmas and put the bag somewhere safe. But every now and then when Sun wasn’t around I’d just have a little bit, and come January there was only a little bit left!”
This chocolate was a bit too rare and a touch too expensive to have been scoffed over Christmas. “The company owner phoned us at 8pm one night to say that at short notice he was going to be in London the next morning, and he twenty kilos of Porcelana in a suitcase. Sun told him we’d take the lot, we’d take all of it – then told me we were going to London, and needed to go now. We booked a last minute hotel, and had dinner with him at one of the Galvin Brothers’ restaurants – with a suitcase open on the floor, as we counted out bags of cocoa on the table and the maître d was asking us in French what we were doing. So eating that chocolate cost me dinner and an overnight trip to London, but Sun got eighteen kilos and I got another two, so everyone was happy.”
It’s clear that Stephen and Sun’s personal connection to the chocolate they make is part of what makes Lauden unique; especially in the way they have managed to transfer that connection to their customers. One of their biggest successes has been being selected to supply British Airways’ First Class, which hasn’t only brought prestige to the brand, but a string of heartfelt compliments from a clientele who are not easily pleased.
“I’ve had on average a minimum of one email or a phone call a week from a passenger, or even the crew,” said Stephen. “I’ve got them all saved, because I couldn’t believe people had gone to that length. They’d paid £6,000 for a ticket, and the chocolate comes at the very end of the meal, so the fact that they’ve remembered the company or taken the card and then gone to the trouble to speak to me – it’s so touching, it inspires me and puts a smile on my face.”
Supplying British Airways is an unusual form of export, as their chocolates leave Leeds bound for destinations all over the world – but are eaten before they get there. But Lauden’s markets are expanding, from supplying a world famous pastry chef in Japan, to the strangest place they’ve reached so far – Kazakhstan.
“We wondered how on earth they had heard of us,” said Stephen. “We supply the equivalent of Harrods in Moscow, called Globus Gourmet, and it turned out to be the flagship store of their sister company in Kazakhstan. They said, ‘We’re going through Moscow to get your chocolate, but can we deal direct?’ It seems strange sometimes that we have a limited range in Harrods, but a huge range in Moscow and a huge range in Kazakhstan!”
Lauden are now in the middle of moving to new premises in Roundhay, with a larger kitchen, proper offices and space for a chocolate school, with the involvement of a former Head Pastry Chef from the Savoy. “We’ve been on the look out for a new unit for the last two years, without spending a fortune and without moving too far away. We like living in Leeds, and we like the thrill of living in the city centre.” It will allow Lauden to grow even more, with twelve new chocolates on the way – including a mojito chocolate, and a new improved truffle – and a new range of bars. But it still seems hard for Stephen to appreciate how far he and Sun have come in such a short space of time.
“When I first delivered the first batch of chocolates to British Airways, I drove down to hand deliver it to make sure everything went smoothly and to understand the process. I put some stuff on Facebook, and a very close friend texted me and said, ‘Take your head out of the sand, and enjoy the moment.’ It nearly brought me to tears because I’d been running so hard to make sure everything worked, that everything arrived on time, that I’d never enjoyed it, I’d never enjoyed any of the achievement, and it didn’t hit me until that drive back. It was only at that point that I realised what we had achieved.”
For all the long hours and the hard work (“I hold the record for the longest working day, which was 26 hours straight, and the longest week, which was 125 hours”), for all the devoured bags of chocolate and the prestige contracts, it’s the enjoyment of the chocolate that remains at the centre of what Stephen and Sun do.
“The biggest thing we do is sampling,” said Stephen. “We want people to try it. Even if people are buying our chocolate as a gift for a friend, even if they’ve already bought the box, I tell them – just try this one. And then they get it.
“I remember in January, at three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, I had a phone call from a Middle Eastern number, and it was a man asking where he could buy our chocolate in London. I told him a good flagship was Harrods, and he said he was actually in Harrods, and he had a box in his hand, but it didn’t have the chocolate he wanted. So I said I’d prepare the order and FedEx it to where he was staying – the Hyatt Regency.
“I asked him where he had come across our chocolate, because he had obviously gone to a bit of trouble on a Sunday trying to track them down, and he said he’d had them in First Class on British Airways. First of all I was touched that he’d gone to that trouble of phoning me from Harrods – but even more so, because we’d taken a break from supplying at that point, and it must have been at least three months since he’d had them and he’d still remembered. That is what gets us out of bed in the morning – that someone has that much passion for something we created.”
Originally published in The City Talking Leeds: Issue 12