Why one Sheffield chocolatier is enjoying the sweet taste of success following a tumultuous year
For one Sheffield business owner with an extremely sweet tooth, getting to work with chocolate every day is a dream come true.
Sorrel Botham turned her love of all things sweet into a business in 2018, when she “took a leap of faith” and opened Sorrel’s Cocoa Bakery, then called Dandelion Cocoa, on Crookes High Street.
What started as a hobby soon evolved into a full-time job, on top of her day job, after Sorrel began selling her delectable chocolate products at markets across Sheffield including Sharrow Vale Market.
"I went full time and quit my temping jobs in 2018. I was getting to the stage where I couldn’t do both so just had to take a leap of faith,” explains Sorrel, aged 29.
"I’m not sure if it was confidence or foolishness. I knew it was something I really wanted to do and if I didn’t try, I knew I’d always regret it,” adds Sorrel.
Her gamble has certainly paid off, and Sorrel’s Cocoa Bakery is currently doing so well that she is about to take on two new members of staff to help her keep up with demand, and is also looking into the possibility of opening a second shop in Sheffield.
When Sorrel opened the shop, which is painted blush pink, helping to add a splash of colour to Crookes’ main thoroughfare, she initially sold chocolate, including bon bons, bars and shards, as well as fresh cookies.
But when fresh cookies became a hit with customers, it became clear that there was a market for baked goods, and she expanded her offering.
"We had a really good response to the fresh cookies, and I think people were excited about being able to come and pick something like that up to have on the go in the Crookes because there wasn’t really anywhere doing that."
Today, the shop sells a variety of sumptuous sweet treats, with everything from brownies, blondies to brookie pots, combining brownies and cookies, as well as temptingly tasty bon bons, chocolate bars and shards.
“We have chocolate orange, Snickers, we do anything we can stuff into a brownie basically,” explains Sorrel.
Sorrel’s offering continues to be informed by what is popular with customers and she tries to introduce a new flavour every couple of weeks.
The most recent addition is a Turkish Delight brownie that was suggested by a customer, and has “gone down well.”
Sorrel strives to use free range products and sources ingredients from places including Madagasca, Tanzania and Belguim.
She describes how because you have to use ingredients of the highest quality when making chocolate, this has led to her using the same calibre of products for her decadent bakes.
While the shop in Crookes is the base that customers recognise, much of the chocolatey magic happens at the industrial kitchen space she rents at Effingham Road, Attercliffe.
The first kitchen space she had was 580 square feet, and she recently moved into a new one in April, which is almost four times the size at 2,500 square feet.
And when the two new staff members join the Sorrel’s Cocoa Bakery team, bringing the total number of staff to six including Sorrel, Sorrel also hopes to expand the number of products available online.
Prior to the first national lockdown last March, only 10 per cent of the business’s revenue stream came from online sales.
But when trading – and life as we knew it – came to a grinding halt when coronavirus restrictions were brought in, Sorrel, like many others up and down the country, was forced to reassess her business model.
"As soon as we had to close I was really worried just because we weren’t really set up to do anything else and still had set bills to pay,” says Sorrel.
She added: "We had to completely redo the website, set up business accounts with Royal Mail and work out the design of the packaging so it could fit through a letter box.”
"I kept reminding myself that there was no benefit to worrying because there was nothing we could hope to do except hope for the best.”
The shop was closed for a couple of months, during which time the business was awarded a small business grant from the Government, and due to it being somewhere that sells food, Sorrel’s Cocoa Bakery has been permitted to remain open ever since.
"We were allowed to reopen after a couple months and had to remove our seating in the shop, and had to stop doing drinks, but were able to reopen as long as we were selling food to take away,” she said.
Lockdown led to a change in consumer behaviour, with people wanting to send gifts to loved ones they were separated from, or to treat themselves while they were stuck at home.
And that, coupled with Sorrel’s loyal customer base wanting to support their favourite local chocolatier, has meant that her business has been able to flourish during an incredibly tumultuous year.
"People were happy to see us back and were glad that we’d been able to weather everything that was going on,” explains Sorrel.
Online sales have, and will continue to be, a strong performing aspect of her business, and are currently split equally between sales in Sheffield and sales up and down the UK in places including London, Scotland, Devon and Cornwall, as well as a number of international destinations.
Sorrel is originally from Devon, and moved to Sheffield in 2016 when her partner got his “first job” here.
"I thought we’d stay for a year, and then we’d move to London or somewhere,” admits Sorrel.
But like many who move to the Steel City, Sorrel fell in love with the place and the balance between city life and green spaces it provides.
Before long, the couple decided to lay down roots here and have bought a house in Crookes.
She describes how when she moved to Sheffield, she had no idea that she would start her own business, and says she was by no means a natural baker.
"How rubbish my baking is was a bit of a family joke!
"There’s a picture of my brother trying one of my bakes that was somehow raw on the outside and cooked on the inside.”
“I’m living proof that if I can do it, anyone can,” jokes Sorrel.
While Sorrel always had a sweet tooth and admits to being the type of person that would happily “add chocolate to anything,” it wasn’t until she fell ill in 2014 that baking became a pasttime that she started devoting more and more time to.
“I kept saying I’ll only do this as a hobby, I’ll never have my own shop,” she said.
But the decision to enrol on a short course with Slattery’s in Manchester, through which she learned the basics such as how to temper chocolate, how to mould bars and truffle recipes, set Sorrel on the path to becoming a chocolatier.
From then on, everything Sorrel has learned has been mainly self-taught and says she has, and continues to, learn a lot through trial and error.
Prior to catching the baking bug, Sorrel had believed her university course in Bournemouth would lead her towards a career as a fashion buyer.
"I lost interest in my course and realised it wasn’t something I wanted to do.
"I wanted to do something I would enjoy every day and when I started making chocolate and baking I thought I know this is something I’ll enjoy every day, so no matter what happened next I knew it was something that was worth trying,” she explains.