Batchelor visits…Montezuma’s

Scores: 92% What’s good: A company that is focussed and loves what it does; delicious choccies too. What’s bad: Website is a little dated.   

The process of selling food these days is terribly clinical. Gone are the days when people went to their local high street and bought their fruit and vegetables from ‘Jackson’s Greengrocers’, their meat from ‘F. H. Windybottom & Sons – Quality Butcher’, and popped to the corner shop for some bleach, a packet of Swan Vestas, and a tin loaf. No matter how much we complain about how ‘the supermarkets’ have destroyed that traditional industry, those days are gone and will never return; and the role of the supermarket – with their easy and sometimes passionless layouts – fits perfectly with our ever busy lives. But could those days return? Certainly Mary Portas in her recent BBC 2 series Mary Queen of Shops  showed us that the role of the traditional, individual business is still much loved and wanted by us – it’s just that the industry is tired and on death row. We as consumers want good quality food, sold by people who care and who know what they are talking about.

So it is delightful to see the chocolate maker Montezuma’s doing so well on our aggressive high streets. They are, by no means, an individual business with only one store for there are five Montezuma’s (situated in Winchester, Chichester, Brighton, Kingston-upon-Thames, and London) shops, but their locations are specific and their shops, due to the small number of branches, almost act as individual enterprises themselves. Brighton was the first store that Helen and Simon Pattinson opened in 2000, leaving their professions as lawyers to concentrate on replicating the techniques of chocolate making they had learnt in Venezuela – the destination they chose after deserting their City jobs. So, with this in mind, I went to their Winchester branch with high hopes.

Outside – 17/20

The store sits in Winchester High Street’s distinctive canopied-walkway (ok…I made that up!) which, as any frequent visitor to the High Street will tell you, is prime selling space for tourists seem to crowd around that little monument alongside. However, when I visited, any tourist – and anyone else for that matter – would either have been run over by machinery, or would have choked to death from the dust being issued from work being done by fluorescent-jacket-wearing workmen. It really was quite an expedition getting to the store. However, it was worth it. The windows were tastefully decorated with banners proclaiming Montezuma’s Cakeworks service for weddings and special occasions. Also displayed was the crowing glory of the Cakeworks service – a tall (possibly about 4ft) cake made from individual chocolates. I was salivating even before I entered.

Inside – 20/20

The first impression that hits you when you enter the shop is one of smallness. The shop is really quite small but, despite showcasing – I presume – the entire range of Montezuma’s produce – the shop did not feel claustrophobic. Unlike rival Thornton’s further down, Montezuma’s felt, oh, how can I put it? Special. It captured a little of the atmosphere expressed in Vianne’s shop in Joanne Harris’ novel, Chocolat, especially the opportunity for customers to choose their own chocolates from a large glass cabinet on the counter. I got the sense that this company loved its products – a rare thing these days.

Customer Service – 20/20

As soon as I entered (and after realizing how small it was) and employee came over with a tray full of chocolate and offered me some. It was the chilli flavoured variety. And if you are one of those people who thinks that besides from milk, chocolate should be the only ingredient in chocolate, you will have a surprise. Chilli is a superb ingredient with chocolate; its intensity mixes beautifully with the characteristics dark chocolate has.
Anyway, back to the customer service. The staff were knowledgeable and friendly, and once you have had a bite of their chocolate, they seem even nicer.

Did I buy anything? – 20/20

I did, yes, although it took me a long time to decide. I wanted a gift for a sick friend and I ummed and arrrghed for a good twenty minutes, ‘Should I go for an already prepared box, or for a bag, or should I choose my own?’ The option of a large bar of chocolate did not help matters, and nor did the delicious looking chocolate buttons. I eventually settled for the classic milk chocolate selection and I can report that the Irish tipple truffle is divine.

The Interweb – 15/20

As you would expect from a company that takes pleasure in its produce, is a joy to use. Of particular interest was the ‘History’ section that explained the origin of the name (yes, the company is named after Aztec Emperor Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin – derr!) and how they make their chocolates. The only bad thing, however, is that the website has the appearance of being from the year 2000. Seeing as though they only have five stores, Montezuma’s need to exploit their website.

Overall – 92/100
It may be easy to show passion for your business when you are dealing in the oh-so tempting world of chocolate, but that doesn’t get away from how good Montezuma’s really is. Despite being in existence for only ten years, Montezuma’s is one of the leading names in British chocolate making on the high street. It is also successful because it is passionate and focussed. Just goes to show you how Winchester High Street is graced with the good (Montezuma’s) and the bad (C&H Fabrics). 

Next Week: McDonald’s, Winchester.

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