Karen Waller, founder, and owner of Tempt, answers our questions on the workings behind ethical and sustainable chocolate-making in the city of York.
York is a city synonymous with chocolate-making. Those familiar with its streets will know that, when the wind blows in the right direction, you can catch the scent of chocolate carried on the air. This rich history stretches back almost 300 years. Big brand names such as Rowntrees and Terry’s Chocolate Works factory have their origins in the city, employing 14,000 workers at their peak.
Tempt is a Chocolaterie new to York’s streets. Situated on High Petergate, the business places a refreshing emphasis on the ethical and sustainable practices within the chocolate-making industry. Karen Waller, founder, and owner, answers our questions on the intricacies of ethical and sustainable chocolate production and why Tempt is a revolutionary new contribution to York’s history of chocolate.
What was the inspiration behind Tempt and why did you decide to start the business?
The inspiration behind Tempt has multiple facets. Deciding to set up a Plant-based Chocolaterie was both an incredibly difficult and a very easy decision. A lot of people said I was crazy, especially in a pandemic. As a recent vegan (of almost two years), and what I would describe as a ‘dairy-avoiding conscious meat-eater’ before that, I no longer wanted to use (or have to eat) dairy in the workplace when it’s against my ethics as an individual. I’ve been a chocolatier for fifteen years, and a chocolate maker for two. I’ve run large and demanding kitchens, but I love the artisanal side of chocolate and the purity of those skills. I have a style that combines many elements of classic French chocolate with English flavours and twists. There are many good and honest people in the chocolate industry, but also many who pretend to be that and aren’t. I’d reached a point in my career where I needed to make a decision to either leave an industry that I love, or put all my effort into creating my own business. So Tempt was born when I came across the empty shop on High Petergate!
In your Kickstarter you mention the importance of the business’ ethical basis. Why is this important to you?
Over a decade ago, I watched a documentary about bad labour practices and slavery in cocoa. I remember an abused farmworker being questioned about what they would say to somebody in the West eating a cheap chocolate bar. He replied that they would tell them that they are eating his flesh. He was questioned whether he would prefer that the person in the West stopped buying that chocolate, and he replied no, because then he would starve. That documentary has always stayed in my mind.
What makes Tempt an ethical and sustainable business?
Having been in the industry for so long, I’ve met a lot of people – farmers, traders, chocolate makers and enthusiasts – from all over the world. Cocoa has a deeply troubled history and a controversial present, so it’s important to me that I use the most ethical cocoa and chocolate that the business can afford. My base ingredients are three times more expensive than someone using regular industrially-produced chocolate. I’m trying to be the best that I can be, and that means analysing my entire supply chain. This means both from a vegan angle – so making sure my labels, paint, packaging and glues are vegan – but also that I’m conscious of the rest of my supply chain from an environmental and human stance – from recycled paper for wrappers, to the sugars and nuts that we use, and also incorporating some local produce (like the organic oats we use for milk) wherever I can to cut down the carbon footprint. My ethics also apply to the staffing of the business. Food and hospitality are notorious industries for poor treatment of workers in the UK, and I’ve worked in some businesses where the bosses behave disgracefully but they get away with everything, even when it’s illegal. I’m determined that Tempt will be different and that those who work for me won’t be treated the way I have been in the past.
I’ve felt uncomfortable with many parts of the chocolate industry for years – how companies operate both abroad and in this country. I was fed up of sitting in meetings with people deciding how to target ‘niche’ markets – how do we monetise this or that sector of people. I’ve seen it done according to religious or ethical belief as well as sexuality, and there’s no genuine concern or care for the customer or their ethics – it’s just about cashing in. I’m not a capitalist. I believe that we need circular economies and people who care about what they do and their impact on the world and those around them. My work went against this and so Tempt is an attempt to create my own bubble within the industry where I can wake up every day in the knowledge that I’m doing the best I can to live true to myself.
What kind of products do you have on offer? Do you have a personal favourite?
We’re a traditional Chocolaterie. That means we have a range of products from fine filled chocolates like Caramels, Ganaches and pralines, to bars and big slabs of Milkt, White or Dark chocolate with Hunnycomb, nuts or fruit. There are novelty items like the little Tempt mice, which are only £2.50 so there’s something for everyone no matter what your budget. I’m also focussing in on York’s classic of course – Chocolate Orange. Every Christmas I was given one as a kid, and I love orange chocolate. I wanted to give back great orange chocolate to people who can’t or won’t have dairy, and so far everyone loves it, especially the Chocolate Orange slices. I’m a confectioner too, so we also have jellies made with real fruit, and we’re working on marshmallows and fudge.
My favourite bars that we have are the ‘Northern Monkey’ Peanut Gianduja which is basically solid chocolate peanut butter, and the Rose Otto bar which is ultimate pleasure. My go-to to munch-on is our Caramelised Macadamia & Hazelnut Milkt chocolate slab.
How does the process of crafting vegan chocolate differ from crafting non-vegan chocolate?
Really the processes are very similar. It’s just about understanding your ingredients and caring how the chocolate is made. It’s like everything in life – if you care about what you do, and put good things into it, you’ll get good stuff out.
How has Tempt been received so far, and what are your plans for the future of the business?
I couldn’t be happier with how Tempt has been received so far. I’ve invested my lifesavings into the business, as well as taking a loan, and so seeing how people have responded so well has meant so much to me. Seeing people of all ages who have been vegan (or often allergic or intolerant to dairy) for many years, take a bite of our Milkt chocolate and look so happy has been wonderful. Our customers are lovely, and so engaged, positive and supportive. A lot of our customers don’t have any dietary choices involved; they just know we make really good chocolate. Everyone understands that it’s about ethics and good chocolate, and they can see the work that goes into what we do. Some people say it’s not cheap, and of course it’s not – if anything is cheap then somebody – or something – is suffering somewhere because of it. But we’re fairly-priced for what we do and the ingredients we use. More people are coming to understand the impact of their purchases now and are also realising that chocolate and confectionery should be a treat rather than just something to wolf down every day.
For now, I’d like Tempt to establish itself as a pioneer in Plant-based chocolate. I want to continue to introduce people to chocolate that’s never seen a cow and prove that it doesn’t need to in order to be delicious. Cacao is, after all, a plant. It’s crazy that we can’t officially call our Vanilla White ‘chocolate’ because it has no dairy milk in it. I chose to call Tempt ‘Plant-Based’ rather than Vegan because I want it to be inclusive. I’m proud to be vegan, but I also care strongly about humans and the environment and I am a believer that we can all have our own ethics and beliefs without imposing them on others. Every little bit helps and I find that ‘Plant-based’ is a far more accessible term for many non-vegans. Chocolate and cheese are often the two things that prevent people from adopting a fully Plant-based diet. If our chocolate makes that a little bit easier, that’s all good.
As far as the future is concerned, if Tempt were to grow that would be great, but I would never want to compromise on my ethics or the quality of what we do, and at scale that’s never easy. If we can survive and grow strong as a little York-based Chocolaterie making wonderful chocolate, I’ll be more than happy.
Where does Tempt fit within York’s rich chocolate history?
I see Tempt as the next evolution in York’s Chocolate history. It is a genuine chocolate revolution – even if it is on a small scale! I’m happy to have my Chocolaterie in a city that’s got such a fascinating past in chocolate and confectionery. We’re all aware of the social legacy of the chocolate industry, and big businesses are notoriously slow to change. As a small business that has genuine and progressive ethics, we’re something new in the city. I don’t think there could have been a better place to start the next phase of chocolate innovation in the UK. I can’t wait to bring out the Chocolate Orange box sets later in the year!
About the Author: Holly Miles is News and Politics Editor of WILD Magazine and in her third year of studying English and Related Literature at the University of York.
To visit Tempt online, click here.