I noticed a few weeks ago that The Chocolate Society’s website is down while it undergoes maintenance, but last week I found out that the company went into administration in December. It seems that they’ve now ceased trading: this week, Gerard Coleman — owner of Artisan du Chocolat — went to an auction of some of the company’s assets.
The end of The Chocolate Society makes me very sad. Of all the shops that I regularly visit, theirs was one of the first I discovered. At that time, when I was about 18, I only ever went food shopping in London when I had a Saturday off work. It would be an exciting event for me, and it really opened my eyes. I would spend hours wandering around Chelsea, visiting patisseries and chocolate shops.
My introduction to the Society came about through my discovery of Valrhona. I had my first taste of Valrhona when I spotted a bar in the Kingston branch of Waitrose. From that point, I found out that the Society was one of the few places that sold Valrhona, so visited their Elizabeth Street branch one Saturday. It was a tiny little shop, with tables at which the well-healed locals would sit while sipping the Society’s famous hot chocolate. Despite its size, the shop was crammed-full with Valrhona products, as well as things that the Society made using Valrhona, including their own heavenly chocolates. It was a unique and charming shop, which was open until last month. I visited in December to find that the shop had recently been given a stunning makeover. There was no hint of what was to come, and it seems surprising that the Society would spend so much money on its shop at a time when it was so close to entering liquidation.
The Society has had an interesting history. In 1986, the European Union started to question whether most of the chocolate sold in Europe could legally be considered to be real chocolate. Consequently, the Campaign for Real Chocolate was started in the UK, and in 1991, The Chocolate Society was founded to promote the campaign. The Society was set up by a trio including Chantal Coady, owner of Rococo. She later left, but the Society continued without her, growing from a subscription-based tasting club into a retail and wholesale company that became one of the largest UK distributors of Valrhona. That is the only chocolate that they ever used in their products.
A few years ago, William Curley bought the Society. Consequently, his products were sold in their shops and they opened a dessert bar together in Mayfair. The marriage didn’t last long: Curley sold the business and their dessert bar closed.