Samantha Ward talks to Lisa Gibbons about forklift truck driving, the future and starting a business
On a stiflingly hot day in late September, I’m finding it difficult to walk at any great speed to meet the brains behind Walthamstow’s Saw Chocolate, a tiny shop situated towards The Bell end of Hoe Street, next to Menagerie Makes and Clapton Craft.
I’m wondering how all this chocolate doesn’t melt in the heat but of course I forget that some places in London do have air conditioning. I’m welcomed by a cooling – albeit mechanical – breeze when I enter the shop.
Samantha puts the kettle on and makes me a chair out of a large upside down box which promptly collapses under my weight when I sit on it. It’s actually very comfortable.
I’d be encouraged to come back into the shop not just for the handmade chocolates but also for Samantha’s frank and humorous repartee. She’s refreshingly down to earth and charismatically self-deprecating.
“Yeah, I’m not some random lunatic. Well, I am that, but I went to school as well,” Samantha informs me when I ask what she did before setting up the chocolate shop. Studying patisserie at prestigious chef school Le Cordon Bleu, Samantha learnt the intricate methods of making “pastries, cakes, sponges, sugarworks, chocolate and everything.”
All the produce is made here on site, in a kitchen just behind the shop front.
After trying the chocolate on offer here, it seems a shame to go back to eating anything mass produced and packaged in a far-flung part of Birmingham or Kilchberg. I tried a glossy, marbled Jack Daniels caramel, which puts most booze infused chocs to shame; and rose and violet creams that are so moreish, I could have easily ingested an extra ten.
“When I was preparing to open the shop I made lots of plans and lots of flavours. But when it comes to selling things, you have to be a bit more reasonable as well. And people might want an amazing box of astonishment, they might just want a peppermint cream,” Samantha tells me.
One of the flavours Samantha concocted but left on the cutting room floor was a blackcurrant cream.
“The cream was quite sweet and silky and in the middle of that there was a tiny blackcurrant jelly which was quite sharp. But you have to vary the boxes, you can’t just have loads of blackcurrant. There was also a mango and ginger chocolate that I’d like to go back to making.”
Samantha’s work experience prior to becoming a chocolatier couldn’t have been more different. “I worked in a factory placing bits of bolts for gates into a bit of cardboard. Then I would watch the cardboard slowly roll into the machine. There was a stool behind me and we were told not to sit on it,” she laughs.
“And I was quite a good forklift truck driver in my day. I know that because the other guy put it through the ceiling. I never crashed, and I never ran over anyone.”
Working in temporary jobs gave Samantha a good view of how people ran their businesses. She worked hard and she worked quickly, often to the chagrin of other workers who wanted to take it easy. “It shows you how much you can do if you just get on with it.”
Saw Chocolate has been open since November 2015 so will soon be celebrating its first birthday.
“I’ve done all this with hardly a tear,” says Samantha, dismissing the idea that running your own business needs to be exhausting and overwhelming.
“On Dragon’s Den, the panel just want to crush the people pitching their ideas. It’s ‘So, what’s your turnover going to be in 2092? How many are you going to sell then, then?’
“You’re thinking, ‘I don’t know’. Because you have to take a chance. You take a chance with things you don’t try on, you take a chance with food you haven’t eaten in a restaurant. You take a chance on love.
“I make things that taste nice and I opened a shop and people buy them. That’s all it is.”
The Waltham Cat’s next edition features views on the future of London in 2066, so I asked Samantha what she thought London would look like in 50 years from now.
“Even if in the future London is owned by about ten people then it’s still going to be the same because people still have to live and work here.
“But shop sizes is becoming smaller due to rising costs, so there’ll be millions of micro-businesses. And people are getting bigger and taller. So we’ll be slowly squeezing back into our minuscule shops,” Samantha ponders.
“And maybe my customers’ children will bring their children here and they’ll say, ‘That’s the same woman that worked in the shop all those years ago.'”
Saw Chocolate is at 72 Hoe Street, London E17 4PG.