How did it all start?
It is all very closely associated with my grandmother who played a significant part in my upbringing. This is the heart and the soul of my passion for chocolate. My grandmother was always keen to reward me, and she would produce an array of chocolate treats placed on her special tray with little flowers on it. It was always ceremonial. That aspect of the ceremony is still following me and when I started my shop in Rye just over nine years ago it was always about the ceremony of handing over the chocolate to the customer, strongly influenced by Japanese aesthetics because I studied contemporary Japanese art and photography. I love the minimalistic approach which focuses on the essence of simplicity, beauty and elegance.
These two things merged into my desire to treat other people. I wanted to share the love I received as a child through chocolate, with my customers.
I left Germany, my home town of Stadtoldendorf to study photography in England. I worked in that field until photography became digital. I am not a digital person. The art of the darkroom captured me and I could never make the switch. I am a crafts person.
I wanted to try something new. I turned to the idea of chocolate. I was living in London and in the winter of 2012, I was walking around, and I realised that there was very little choice of good hot chocolate drinks and certainly not anything memorable.
I moved to Camber and by chance found this shop in Rye which was available for rent. Knoops was born. Starting a new adventure was at once daunting and exciting, but my partner was supportive and said it would be a success. It wasn’t a proven concept: all I knew was that I knew that chocolate works.
The Knoops concept is based around a carefully-curated percentage menu which offers chocolates to suit every taste and mood. It is multicultural, it goes through all ages from very old, (my oldest customer is just over one hundred years old), to very young, and every ethnicity and gender. I have a very broad customer base. We have twenty-two chocolates on the wall; something for everyone.
In 2013 it was opened. At the beginning, the local community thought it was “just another coffee shop.” The concept was brand new but once the people of Rye understood what I was offering and how attractive it was for tourists to have something different on offer, especially on bad weather days, they embraced the idea and supported it.
Nobody knew about chocolate choices. Soon those who had sampled the chocolate drinks recommended it and even the taxi drivers were telling their fares about it, hoteliers and
B and B owners began spreading the word to the tourists, too.
It became No 1 on Trip advisor in East Sussex even though it is not a restaurant and in
2017 The Telegraph wrote an article “The best hot chocolate in the world!”
And things just took off.
What’s next ?
It will always be chocolate. We are heading towards making our own chocolates with the Mexican Cacao farmers. It will be a Knoops exclusive chocolate.
Do you travel to meet suppliers around the world?
My carbon footprint would be a disaster if I went to all the places to see my suppliers but it is necessary sometimes to go in person. The Venezuelan farmers approached me about being involved with Knoops. They have been farming for 200 years and it will be a privilege to work with these amazing people.
Do you always think chocolate?
Yes, chocolate and customers.
I sit outside all my stores and engage with passers-by and with customers. That is where some of my best ideas come from. We have lots of vegan customers and our drinks use a whole range of plant-based milks which means that they can enjoy our drinks too. I listen and I care.
Now you can experience the joy of Knoops chocolate drinks at home with its range of hot chocolate flakes and makers, and visit the stores where “Knoopologists” will expertly craft your perfect drink. There are seven branches but Rye, the birthplace, the mothership, will always be the special one. Kensington High Street, Chelsea King’s Road, Brighton (in the Lanes), Richmond, Oxford and Covent Garden (opened on the Queen’s Jubilee 2022) are the others.
Image Credits: Kt bruce .