Image description: Rows of colourful bars of chocolate next to a sign saying ‘Welcome to Montezuma’s Oxford, Extraordinary Chocolate.’
Oxford’s newest chocolate shop, Montezuma’s, has at last opened its vibrant doors on historic Queen street. Owners Helen and Simon Pattinson were kind enough to speak to Sophie and me about the opening of their seventh location and the continuation of what they are tentative to declare a corporate mission: that of “extraordinary chocolate, done properly.” It is simple, but inexplicably appropriate. Entering the shop for the first time, the sense of a genuine appreciation for the product is splashed across the walls in chalkboard messages and lively, Wonka-esque colours. The smells of spices, fruits, and cacao float through the aisles of varieties ranging from classic buttons to the “hot pickle” bar which has notes of chilli and lime. It quickly became clear that the managerial duo left their jobs in law for reasons far more fun than we could’ve hoped. Sustainability, ethical resourcing, and innovation simply came along for the ride.
There are quite a few things to be excited about in Montezuma’s, from the 100% recyclable packaging to the notorious student discount. The business has chosen to approach a product often steeped in controversy with solutions that just make sense. Among our favourites were the glass jars of thick chocolate shards that can be purchased by weight and carried out in the reusable packaging of your choice: what they call “naked chocolate.” For students in particular, the 10 quid paper bags filled with loads of imperfect truffles reflect efforts to prevent food waste while maintaining a refreshing affordability perfect for our ever-diminishing bank accounts.
There are quite a few things to be excited about in Montezuma’s, from the 100% recyclable packaging to the notorious student discount.
It is concepts like these that combine with truly stunning packaging to create a shop that is an experience in itself. When asked why Oxford students should buy chocolate from Montezuma’s, Simon stressed the thoughtful atmosphere him and his wife originally intended for the business: “Well the question is, really, why should anyone buy from us? We’re a British-owned company. We pride ourselves on innovation and quality, which is really important. And I suppose, probably more specifically to the students, we also pride ourselves as a business done properly. And that crosses through everything we do from the packaging, you know, we want substance over style, to how we deal with our customers. And it tastes great.”
Yes, Simon, it certainly does. We sampled some of the products offered and were particularly fond of the “American Idol” truffles, consisting of milk chocolate and salted caramel packaged in recyclable cardboard for a fair eight pounds. Another favourite was the “cherry pie”, a dark chocolate and cherry bar, as well as the shocking 100% cacao “absolute black” bar. A selection of these can also found in sets called “bar libraries”, which include five bars for 14 pounds. Frankly, a steal; and it just screams Oxford.
Finally, we questioned the owners about their efforts to ensure the ethical resourcing of all of their chosen ingredients, which they explained is an issue that extends from the cacao itself to vanilla and sugarcane: “We use three certifications, the only difficulty is when you’re a really small business. You can’t possibly be in every cacao plantation at the same time, so we use the certification bodies to help us monitor the situation in the cocoa plantations, and we also find the best quality so we’re buying directly from small cooperatives in South America.” As the business grows, it is admittedly more difficult to maintain personal relationships with such providers. Yet, Helen and Simon are both conscious of their responsibility to sidestep traders from the Ivory Coast and Ghana in order to maintain distance from larger agricultural powers dependent on slavery and child labor.
In the end, the Pattinsons are focused on maintaining a great product and a proper business in their expansion to Oxford: “We wanted to create a business that we wanted to work in. I still don’t really get our mission. We always wanted to work properly with our suppliers, our customers, or staff, and that’s to us what it was all about. For us, we couldn’t have one without the other.” Add chocolate to the mix, and we won’t be upset if Montezuma’s is here to stay.
Image credit: Montezuma’s