The seeds of the business began in 2001 from the family kitchen in Aylesbury. Nigel had been a pastry chef for 20 years and was working in the kitchens of New College Oxford when a colleague asked if he would make a batch of chocolates for him to take home to his family. He enjoyed making them so much that he made a second batch for his own family too. As demand snowballed, Nigel cut down to a three-day week at New College to meet with demand. “We literally had customers travelling 30 and 40 miles to knock on our front door asking for our chocolates,” he says. “The reaction was incredible.” It was only when the chocolates began winning awards that Nigel realised this could be the full-time business he’d always dreamed of.

Nigel Rumsey at work

Before we knew it we had found the perfect premises in Wendover and opened the doors on February 14th 2004. We decided we would have to have a theatre kitchen where people could watch the chocolates being made, and then thought, “Why don’t we serve hot drinks and something to eat, too?”

With its cornflower blue walls and antique fixtures and fittings, Rumsey’s has a definite scent of Gallic charm. In fact, any film fans could be forgiven for feeling a hint of déjà vu, because the transformation of Rumsey’s from a cottage industry to bustling shop was inspired by Vianne’s shop in the film adaptation of Joanne Harris’ Chocolat.

Rumsey's shop

Nigel now has three other chocolate chefs, whom he’s trained himself. Nigel perfected his own techniques in Switzerland and France where he was taught by top chocolatiers. He, in turn, is passionate about passing on his knowledge to the next generation of chocolate chefs.  Rumsey’s now provides about 40 varieties of chocolates, many of which are seasonal. Provenance is something taken as seriously as their chocolate: “We wanted to use fresh, local produce and support local businesses where possible,” explains Nigel.  “We use a local dairy farm called Lacey’s in High Wycombe, and our eggs and meat are sourced locally, too.”

In return, Rumsey’s has developed an army of devoted local clientele. “We have regulars who come in every week and in some cases more often – that’s one of the best things about the shop – meeting people and making new friends.”

Nigel and Mary Rumsey

Nigel agrees: “It’s little things like that which make all the hard work and hours we put in worth it,” he says. “One of my favourite days was when there was an unexpected snowstorm: all the businesses closed and everyone piled into the shop for hot chocolate after a day’s tobogganing. The snow was falling, the place was jam-packed with people chatting and laughing. I remember standing in the corner and thinking, ‘this is what it’s all about’.”

Article thanks to Wendover News.