The Chocolate Lounge
Laura Cartledge meets the man who has gone from the Navy to running a chocolate business, and discovers the passion which ties it all together.
When Mick Collins joined the Navy aged 16, ‘but looking about seven’, fitting in was just one of the challenges he faced.
Thankfully he had a foolproof method for getting people on side.
“The old hands wouldn’t talk to you if you were new, so I started making rum truffles and got in with them that way,” he smiles.
Having loved cooking since the age of ‘eight or nine’, Mick found he enjoyed the precision needed for making chocolates – and the reactions they would get.
Fast forward a few decades, with his time at sea done and having spent 20 years as a detective with Scotland Yard, Mick found himself back in Portsmouth considering his options.
“I was driving along Copnor Road from a meeting and saw this place was empty, the to let sign had fallen across the path and pulled the facade off with it,” he reveals.
“It was a lightbulb moment – all the blossom was out and it looked like a nice neighbourhood and I thought ‘what if I had a chocolate shop where the customer’s would help pay for me to have a kitchen?’”
The Chocolate Lounge was born in May 2014, and has already seen Mick’s Navy rum truffles shipped across the world as well as being listed for awards, but he confesses it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
“I was very lonely for the three weeks after we opened – people were opening the door and asking ‘what sandwiches do you do mate’ and I’d explain we didn’t, we were a chocolate shop.”
Realising he had to broaden the menu, Mick added award-winning coffee, Portsmouth teas, freshly baked baguettes, New Forest ice-creams, handmade cakes and more, which soon gained attention.
Now, along with full afternoon teas, the lounge is getting a name for its exclusive hire events which have ranged from baby showers to hen dos.
Whatever you go in for however, chances are the tempting counter of handcrafted chocolates will see you leaving with a treat.
Mick even prides himself on being able to convert those who don’t think they have a sweet tooth.
“Some of my favourite customers are the ones who come in and say they don’t like chocolate,” he enthuses. “I had a biker in the other day, wearing leather jacket with the fringing, the works – he said I just want a coffee I have had a long drive.”
A chat revealed ‘he never ate it, apart from perhaps at Christmas, and liked spicy food’ so Mick decided to try him with one of the chilli truffles with his coffee.
“I watched him eye it suspiciously for a bit, then eat it,” Mick says. “Then, when he came up to pay for his drink, he asked how many of the truffles we had left, I had a look out the back and it was about 42 – he asked me to bag them all up for him.”
There’s no doubting Mick’s creations would be hard not to like.
He’s passionate about using the best – and that includes champagne which costs £75 a bottle in his truffles – and the proof is in each indulgent mouthful.
“We do raw, we do gluten free and I don’t add any sugar to my chocolates. We have the Portsmouth Diabetic Society come in, they love them,” he grins.
“One of our most popular chocolates was an accident – I messed up when I was making mint and put it on the watermelon. Now watermelon and mint is one of our most popular.
“The lavender ones came about from a wedding,” adds Mick, “We get allsorts, we had a gent coming in the other day looking for rhubarb crumbles ones.”
Always keen to try something new, and take on a challenge, Mick admits he doesn’t make it easy for himself – so much so he insists it can be harder now than it was while working for the Navy or police.
“In its own way chocolate is as difficult as any of that, especially running my own business,” he insists, “Chocolate is very temperamental – I always say it can be harder to deal with than some of the East End criminals I had to.
“People think we have a factory but it is just me, a bowl and a spatula.
“I am just trying to make the best chocolates people have had.”
To find out more about The Chocolate Lounge, and Mick’s business Chocablock Limited, visit www.thechocolatelounge.net
Pictures: Zoe Gillingham/Emzo Marketing www.emzo-marketing.co.uk