Belinda’s Chocolates – My Somerset to Tauranga Story
Belinda Holme vividly remembers the day she and her family arrived at Mount Maunganui. It was Easter Monday, April 2018. The sun was shining as Belinda, her husband Duncan and her six-year-old son Theo pulled up outside their rental property. All three of them were totally mesmerized by the huge palm trees – evoking a completely different landscape than the one they had left behind in Somerset, United Kingdom.
As it turns out, this was just the beginning of Belinda’s fascination with the local flora. A passionate chocolatier, she soon began using Bay of Plenty produce in the bespoke chocolates she creates as part of her artisan business, Belinda’s Chocolates – celebrating the bounty of the place she now calls home.
Belinda, where did you grow up?
I grew up in Bristol, UK, in a working-class, happy-go-lucky family environment with my grandparents, aunts, and uncles all close by. Bristol was home to the world’s first-ever chocolate factory, Fry’s Chocolate, which opened in 1847. My lovely Nan Olive worked in the factory, as did many of my aunts and uncles. I have many happy childhood memories of being at my grandparents’ homes eating broken chocolates like ‘curly wurlies’ or ‘Turkish delight’ from white paper bags with my two brothers. Fry’s employees were allowed to buy these for a few pennies a bag!
Can you tell us your career story?
After graduating with a degree in communications studies I stumbled into a graduate role working for Merrell Footwear in the United Kingdom. The business was based in the United States and was going through a period of huge expansion globally. I was lucky enough to grow through various roles within the UK arm of the business and travel to many parts of the world. I eventually met my now-husband, Duncan, there too.
I gained a good understanding of how a global business operated and my whole professional development really happened there. What I loved most was working for a business that had integrity and took corporate responsibility seriously. More recently I worked at Clarks International Shoes for five years, an equally inspiring company to work for.
What drew you to become a chocolatier?
When my husband asked me what I wanted to do for my 40th birthday, I replied, “I’d like to learn how to become a chocolatier.” This probably came as a bit of a surprise to him but it was something that had been manifesting in my mind for a while! I have always loved cooking. Strangely I’m not much of a baker, as I don’t really have a sweet tooth, but the thought of being able to create beautiful edible pieces of art made with chocolate and fresh ingredients really appealed to me.
What was the catalyst for your move to New Zealand?
Duncan and I moved to Auckland in 2009 and lived there for a couple of years. Much to my husbands’ disappointment, I got homesick and we returned to Somerset in 2011, where we had our gorgeous son Theo. However, the lure of lovely New Zealand and its beachy lifestyle lurked in our minds every time the cold and wet UK winters kicked in.
What drew you back again?
My husband had a very stressful sales management role in the UK. We had a considerable mortgage to pay each month and virtually never had any disposable income left for a holiday, let alone to put away for a rainy day. We’d had enough of the rat race and decided to have a ‘life overhaul’. Luckily Duncan already had permanent residency to live in New Zealand. So once we had made up our minds we sold our house in Somerset, gave up our jobs, took Theo out of school, and moved to Mount Maunganui.
We had been down to the Mount for a few weekend trips when we previously lived in Auckland. However, it was watching an episode of ‘Wanted down Under’ one rainy winter day back in 2017, which really made us think it could be the best possible location for us to settle as a young family.
How did you want your life to be different here?
Our aim was to simplify our lives. We wanted a small house, less financial pressure, and more time together as a family. Oh, and to be able to walk to the beach was top of the list! We now have all of that and it has been amazing, to be honest.
It was very scary initially as we came with high hopes and very little else. Duncan found a good job within three weeks of arriving, which took the pressure off immensely. Theo was unsettled for the first six to nine months and needed lots of love and reassurance from us. But 18 months down the track he is so happy! He has lots of friends, loves being barefoot, and adores going surfing.
Can you tell us about your business, ‘Belinda’s Chocolates’?
My business is first and foremost about good quality chocolate, which has traceable and ethical origins. I use many kinds of chocolate for my recipes from beautiful pure single-origin types to creamy Belgian, or dairy-free and vegan. Once I have decided which type of chocolate I will be using, I then set about testing recipes and designs.
I love having the ability and freedom to make bespoke products for people or businesses. At the moment I’m selling in The Gallery store in Papamoa, Everbloom Floral studio in Mount Maunganui, Yo &Co Café in the Mount, and at local markets. People can place orders via my Facebook and Instagram pages and from my Belinda’s Chocolates website.
How does living in the Bay of Plenty influence your chocolate creations?
I think it’s important to showcase the specialty foods from where you live. Fresh and local is always going to taste better and I actively want to support and build relationships with local business owners in the region. I use as many local in-season ingredients as I can for maximum freshness and flavour.
In Somerset, we had the best dry cider and cheddar cheese on the planet. Here we have world-class honey, stunning kiwifruit, and many other fantastic fruits, nuts and produce. We need to sing and shout about the delicious foodstuffs grown and cultivated here in the Bay of Plenty. There is so much choice and it is fresh and delicious.
What has it been like starting a business as a newcomer in the city?
It has been exciting and daunting in equal measure. I suppose I have more challenges than a native new Zealander as I have had to get acquainted with New Zealand culture, local culture, and how business works in New Zealand. I’ve found people here to be incredibly friendly and helpful. I actually think starting a small business is much easier in New Zealand than in the UK because it’s so common to ‘give it a go’ here and everyone is very supportive of small businesses.
One of the first things my local bank manager did was to take me to meet a local chocolate maker here in the Mount, with whom I now have a great relationship. We meet regularly and talk about the world of chocolate and discuss ideas together. I don’t know a bank manager in the UK who would leave their desk to initiate something like that, especially for a little fledgling start-up.
Who inspires you creatively?
We see many passionate boundary-pushing artisans in the food industry nowadays who are raising the game and creating delights above and beyond the average. From cheese to wine or coffee, there are so many talented and dedicated specialists out there. The best part is that these people love to share their passion and knowledge about their chosen field with others, as do I. I am planning to run chocolate-making workshops for adults and children in the very near future.
What do you love about living in Tauranga?
I love the beaches, the beautiful scenery, the lovely friendly people and of course, the food. There are plenty of things to do to have fun and relax. We walk or cycle down to the beach, swim in the ocean, and go inland exploring nature. Weekend days usually finish with a beer in hand and a BBQ.
What has surprised you about Tauranga?
I suppose the thing which has surprised me the most is how cosmopolitan it feels living here. I certainly feel the creative scene is thriving here within the arts/food/entertainment community. The local specialist markets, festivals, and events have been a brilliant way to get out in the fresh air and find out what’s happening in our new home town.
What has moving to Tauranga meant:
For your career? Total creative freedom and escape from a sedentary desk job, but a much smaller salary!
For your wellbeing? Honestly, that’s a double-sided coin. I certainly do feel I am now ‘living my best life and am so happy that we can offer our young son such a bright future here. I also really miss family and friends back home which can feel isolating and there are days where I feel sad about that.
For your relationships? We spend so much time together as a family just goofing around and having fun. The gamble has been totally worthwhile.
Gets You Thinking Doesn’t It?
No one can tell you when you’re ready for a change of lifestyle…but when you are, we’d love to have you in Tauranga!
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