Meet the Easter Egg Maker, also known as Willy Wonka of Bristol
When she was a schoolgirl, friends of chocolate-loving Zara Narracott joked that she would one day become the next Willy Wonka. They also said she was the girl most likely to give Cadbury a run for its money.
At the time, Zara had no big plans to open a chocolate factory and follow in the footsteps of Wonka or Cadbury. It wasn’t until she graduated from college that the penny finally plummeted and she realized that running a chocolate factory might not be such a bad idea after all.
“It was obviously more obvious to other people than to me,” says Zara, who has run Zara’s Chocolate on North Street, Southville, since 2013. “I’ve always been a chocolate addict and a chocolate obsessive, but I don’t think that really came to mind as a career prospect when I was in school.
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“As a child, I heard people wanting to be doctors, lawyers and teachers, but I had never thought of opening a luxury chocolate business. But there really wasn’t a small chocolate shop in Bristol that would inspire me to the time.
Once she decided on a career in chocolate, Zara completed the Chocolate School’s Professional Chocolatier program and began experimenting in the kitchen of her home in Bristol. It was then that she began fusing different flavors and exploring unique pairings to combine with high-quality chocolate – often asking friends and family to be her grateful guinea pigs to sample her Wonka-esque creations. .
After selling her chocolates at weekend markets around town, she finally found a permanent site. Sharing the North Street site with a local florist, Zara’s Chocolates opened in 2013 and has firmly established itself as one of the city’s go-to spots for high-end chocolates.
With a small team that includes head chocolatier Helen Jones, Zara’s Chocolates makes everything in small batches and it’s all done by hand. This year’s Easter range has just launched and it’s the first time the store has been open in April for two years due to the pandemic, during which time Zara has ramped up the online side of the business.
When I talk to Zara, she’s busy sorting out new Easter products in time for midterm. They include a £20 Hot Cross Bun egg decorated with red poppies, a limited edition Sophie Long Art ‘chocolate balloon bar’ for £5 and, for £21, a colorful egg box with six milk chocolate eggs filled, each wrapped in colored foil. .
“Because it’s always very busy, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Easter to be honest,” laughs Sophie. “But I usually look forward to it more than Christmas – it’s just a bit more whimsical and fun and everyone after Easter eggs.”
As busy as she is, Zara is clearly excited about the new range, many of which are limited and available from certain days due to her small team trying to keep up with demand. It is also the first Easter in two years that the store has been able to fully open, adding to the excitement for Zara and customers.
“It’s really nice to see everything back on the shelves. We just got it all out and they are already flying off the shelves!
“My favorite is the egg carton with half a dozen filled chocolate eggs – they have a classic melty filling with tart passion fruit gel like yolk which is delicious. Other toppings include an orange and caramel marshmallow, and a hazelnut and caramel.
“We have classic plain eggs with milk or dark chocolate, but we also have oat milk this year. There are also beautifully designed eggs made by our head chocolatier Helen – they have gorgeous floral designs with poppies, cherry blossoms and yellow meadows.
“Some have hot bread spice praline, others contain dried fruit and nuts. One has layers of caramel in a milk chocolate shell and a layer of puffed rice and fizzy candy as well.
With prices ranging from £2.50 for egg-shaped lollipops to £20 for larger eggs, these are obviously more expensive than your supermarket’s Easter treat. Prices are more comparable to chocolate shops and high-end chains, but Zara says its loyal customers know they’re paying for bespoke products that use the best ingredients and take a long time to make.
“We’re lucky to have a good following and we’re just offering something a little different, beautifully designed and a little more unusual. They have been put through a lot of thought and they definitely stand out from the ones you find on the supermarket shelves.
“We’ve been around for almost ten years now, so our customers know what’s in it, how much work and time, and they appreciate the detail. I’m always amazed at the support we get from local customers – we get so bogged down in day-to-day things it’s sometimes easy to forget, but when I sit down and reflect on how far we’ve come since we opened, it’s ‘is beautiful.
Like all small independent businesses, Zara’s Chocolates has had a tough few years due to Covid, not least because popular chocolate workshops have had to shut down. Workshops are back now and the store is fully open again, but Zara says the pandemic has forced her company to change the way it does things.
“I’ve been overwhelmed with the support from people over the last couple of years when it all got a little crazy. People really appreciated that we were still around and they could always send lovely treats to friends and family they couldn’t see in person.
‘The store wasn’t open much but we continued to operate online – the first lockdown was Easter so we tried to get as many eggs out and I was driving around Bristol delivering until 9pm. But it was good to bring a little bit of excitement to people and a lot of people enjoyed that.
“These last two years have changed the way we operate. We’re getting a lot more online orders and we need to get things online sooner to allow people to pre-order.
“We have a lot of orders to place and we now have two sides of the business. One side is like an Amazon depot handling online orders and the other is the store!
And for a self-confessed chocolate addict, working with such delicious ingredients day in and day out must be difficult, so how does Zara keep herself from eating at work? Many chocolate lovers would certainly end up looking more like greedy Augustus Gloop than skinny Charlie Bucket.
“I still eat a lot of chocolate but I’m always in a hurry so I’m lucky,” laughs Zara. “I’m sure my metabolism will catch up to me one day!”
Zara’s Chocolates is located at 200 North Street, Southville, Bristol, BS3 1JF. Tel: 0117 9636956. zaraschocolates.com