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Holy fudge, I can't believe it!

Forget everything you thought you knew about the taste of fudge. Shut The Fudge Door have rewritten the cookery books!


The company logo, a pink background with words Shut The Fudge Door, Artisan Fudge.


"...it's flavour packed, it's fresh, there's no additives...
If you're not all in, you're all out. And we're all in."



Cast your mind back thirty years if you can. If you’re not old enough, these were the days when big tins of chocolates were only ever on the shelves during the run up to Christmas. And there were only two to choose from. Quality Street or Roses.


We were a Quality Street family. My Mum’s favourite was the green triangle. My brother and sister would fight over the toffee penny, while the toffee fingers were my Dad’s go to.


Me? That pink, shiny, foil wrapped diamond of a fudge was MINE. There was never any contest. Why anyone would choose anything else over the fudge was beyond me.


Yet, over the years there’s really only ever been two scenarios in which I would eat fudge:

  1. the obligatory Christmas chocolate tin rummage from Christmas Eve (one never dares break the seal before Christmas Eve) til they’ve all gone.

  2. a colleague’s return from Devon, Cornwall, or the Isle of Wight, with treats to compensate for having the nerve to take a week off. And if I happened to be sat by the desk they left them on, good luck everyone else. You snooze you lose, suckers.

But never before had it occurred to me to buy fudge outside of these occasions.

Then Shut The Fudge Door came along. They entered my life like the sprinkle of happiness I never knew I was missing.


I did know there were fudge companies out there, I just hadn’t paid attention to them. So what was it about Shut The Fudge Door that made me sit up and take notice?


“People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” This is something a business coach recently said to me. When I thought about why Shut The Fudge Door piqued my interest, this is the quote I came back to.


From their first social media posts, before there was even a batch ready to send out the door, Marc and Sally Payne were telling their story. The choice of name raises a cheeky smile. The testing of batch after batch instils confidence that the taste you’re going to experience really matters to them (and oh, my friends, it is a taste sensation like no other). And their openness about this process invites you in as part of their community and makes you feel part of what they are building.


I found myself not just looking forward to ordering more fudge, but to their next Instagram post, their next idea, the next step of their venture.


So I was over the moon when the husband and wife team agreed to join me for an interview and tell me their story in their own words. Here’s what they had to say:

 

Thank you both so much for joining me today. It’s so nice to properly meet you, even if it is virtually! I’m really excited to hear how Shut The Fudge Door began. Can you take me back to the beginning?


Sally: It started in lockdown.


Marc: Lockdown 2.


Sally: Yeah Lockdown 2. We started talking about it, or started talking about a business.

Marc’s an Executive Chef at a hotel. The hotel has still been open throughout, for keyworkers and essential bookings. Obviously the restaurant closes in lockdown but then they do takeaways and all things like that.


The first two lockdowns you were off for a few weeks.


Marc: The first lockdown was really tough. For the first two, maybe two and a half weeks it was brilliant, you know. But I don’t recall ever taking off longer than three weeks. Ever. And that was only once, when we went to Australia a couple of years ago. You know normally it’s a week, week and a half, two weeks at best.


So I think in Lockdown 1, hitting that week four, that’s when I was like ‘I’m not enjoying this anymore.’


Sally: For Marc, he’s always worked sixteen hour long days, long weeks. So to do all that and then just stop, it’s not healthy really. He needed something to get his brain ticking again. It’s all well and good being at home, being the house husband, being at home with me and Alfie. But that slowly is not as fun as it sounds really is it, after so long.


So in Lockdown 2, even though he was working some hours, I decided “I think we need a business. We need to do something together.”



Was it always going to be fudge from the start?


Marc: I’d mentioned fudge first in the initial conversation. But we both kind of dismissed it!

Two pieces of banana and walnut fudge
Banana & Walnut. My and Chef Marc's fave!

Sally: I didn’t think I liked fudge, if I’m honest. And I was like “oh no, we’re not doing that.”


Marc: If I remember rightly we were actually talking about an online order at the time, and potentially getting, like a Gusto. And that’s how we kind of sparked.


Originally we thought around the baking side of it. But more like the Dr Oetker kind of packs you can get, but in the post.


Sally: For families, to do it with children, teaching them to cook, not just baking.


Marc: For families. But then again, you know, thinking about it, is there longevity in that? And I just didn’t think there was.


Back then you thought, ‘are we going to go into a Lockdown 3?’ And the difference between Lockdown 1 and 3, in 1, everyone was loving life, spending money. You know, 3, we’re just about to have Christmas, people have been laid off, or are pretty sure now that they haven’t got a job to go back to, times have changed.


So I’m thinking, there’s no longevity in this kind of baking thing. Why don’t we try fudge?


Sally: He said ”I’ll just do it over Christmas and see how we get on.”


I spoke to family and all of a sudden “I’ve got some orders so you need to make fudge.”


Marc needs to plan and prepare, whereas I’m like ‘right let’s do it now, let’s go and do this today.’


So we did Christmas and then it went crazy didn’t it. But we thought, well that’s great, people are spending for Christmas. It’s family, its gifts, its presents, everyone’s really helping us out. You know, through Facebook and Instagram and things like that. Come January we’ll be quiet.


Well that didn’t happen.


Marc: No.


Sally: Nor February. And definitely not Easter!


Marc: We were thinking, this is gonna drop off. And it didn’t. Just crazy.


Sally: So every week, Marc will make fudge and I’m thinking, ‘will this be the week when it gets a bit quieter?’


And then he’ll come home from work and be like “why’s there empty containers in the dishwasher?”


And I’m like ”yeah, I sold them all!”


Marc: She told me last night that the website had crashed because there was so much activity on it. I nearly spat my tea out! I’d just finished a batch as well.


Sally: He’d just finished a 9 hr shift in the kitchen making fudge.



Oh the website! Let’s talk about that a second, because that’s new isn’t it? So all that success you’ve had up until now, that’s before even really having that online presence!


Marc: Sally did it all.


Sally: I just really worked on Instagram until now. I’m a Facebook girl really if I’m honest. But you know, Instagram is great for business and things like that.


But I was getting so many orders coming through either Instagram pages, Facebook pages, and then you’ve got your friends Whatsapp’ing you. I was just so worried that I would lose an order, or forget something, or make something wrong. I just thought, you know what, we’re just gonna have to look at a website.


I spoke to a friend of mine, and she put me in touch with a friend of hers who sorts websites out. I said to Marc, it’s an investment, but you know, the time I’m spending sending people invoices. And conscious that as you’re expanding further and further afield, you can’t be as quick at turning orders round until they’ve paid because you don’t know these people, it’s not just friends and family anymore.


So I said we need to look at this website, and we did. Paula who sorted the website out has been amazing. Now, the ordering is done online, I don’t have to worry about invoicing, it does it all for it me, and I get an email to say you’ve got a new order.


And then I’ve put some structure in place. My deliveries are twice a week, it says on the website T&C’s that I send out Monday’s and Thursday’s.


The traffic from the website, it’s still so new but I’m intrigued to see next month, where it’s come from.


We’ve had orders in Australia, orders in Spain. I’ve got family in Australia. So my sisters and their friends have ordered. Then we had another order from Australia, so I assumed she would know one of my sisters, and that’s why she ordered.


No. She saw it on a lady’s Facebook page from Spain, who ordered it from Spain to her mother in Wales, and then she recommended us to this woman in Australia! So you know you’re just like, this is crazy.


We couldn’t believe it could we? I appreciate my family, and all their friends, and even then I’m still flabbergasted that anyone wants to spend £20 on delivery to Australia. But this woman didn’t even know us.



Once people taste the fudge, they’d be hooked anyway. But I think part of that initial appeal comes from your name. It’s cheeky, it’s playful, it’s clever. Who came up with it?


Sally: Me. I did a questionnaire on Facebook, just asking a load of questions, doing a bit of market research.


And then I was on my family Whatsapp with my sisters and my mum and we were all coming up with all these ideas. We were coming up with a few good names.

Three packs of dark chocolate fudge covered in white chocolate with a dark chocolate drizzle
Mini dark chocolate bon bons

And then I just said “Shut The Fudge Door” and that was it. I was like, that’s our name.


I told Marc and before I knew it I’d done the logo and everything. We checked there’s no others. There’s a couple of quirky fudge names isn’t there. But ours is a play on words and it’s not rude. I think it’s quite quirky.


You did say at one point, when you were thinking about doing additional things like truffles, now we’re called Shut The Fudge Door, we can’t expand a little bit out of just fudge.


Marc: I don’t think we need to, that was at the beginning. I think when you start messing around with business dynamics you start getting into slippery territory.


Sally: Stick to what’s working well.


Marc: Yeah. I mean have a derivative of your base product, but as long as it’s got fudge there, it should just stay there.



Let’s talk about the fudge then! Obviously as the chef, Marc, I’m assuming you’re coming up with all the flavour combinations and recipes? Are they ones you’ve used before?


Marc: I’ve got a wealth of experience. At the hotel we make our own petit fours and I have a fudge on there as a base. So they’re ones that I’ve come up with originally. Although I’ve changed the recipe because a lot of people know my work recipe and I wanted something that was very much unique. So I did do a little bit of playing around at the beginning and I changed it.


Sally: You’re getting more and more brave with the flavours. He’ll be sat there and he’ll be like “what about this, what about that?” and I’m like, whoa!


Marc: The newer ones, like the strawberry and clotted cream, and the lemon meringue, they are ones that I’ve never done before.


It’s around using Callebaut chocolate which I use anyway as a business, I always have done, for years. I’ve used their flavoured callets but I’ve never used them to make fudge before.

Pieces of lemon flavoured fudge with bits of raspberry meringue in it
Lemon and raspberry meringue. So so good!

One day I thought, ok let’s try it. Fudge gets cooked at such a high heat, it doesn’t retain its colour. The lemon flavour callets are green so it starts off as this really bright, vibrant green as you’re making it. But it obviously doesn’t stay like that at the end.


So while I’m making it, it’s whether it’s going to keep that lemon punch, because it has to be really distinctive. When you’re eating it you’ve got to go, wow, that’s lemon. I didn’t want to put lemon into it because you start adding acidity into your fat content, and then curdling happens.


Pieces of strawberry and clotted cream fudge, topped with small pieces of dried strawberry
Strawberry and clotted cream. Tastes incredible!

So it’s whether it can hold the flavour. I made it for the first time and I was like, wow!


And I thought, if it works for the lemon, it’s got to work for the strawberry. I tried it and it is just, wow, it is absolutely mind blowing.


I don’t like artificial colourings and things like that. It’s not for me. And I’m not really one for loading. I see a lot of businesses just putting chocolate bars in. We do some because obviously we have to be on point with everyone else. But we’re really trying to keep it down to specials for this and that. What we’re really going for is it’s flavour packed, it’s fresh, there’s no additives. It is what it is.


Sally: We’re still a bit quirky. There’s a lot of fudge companies out there, that really look great and we’ve ordered from them and they’re fantastic and they’ve got a lot of theatre to them. So it’s a different way of selling their fudge, they’re selling the theatre.

I think our fudge still looks good but, as you know, the flavour is just fantastic.



Like the Lotus Bar! I wasn’t expecting the fudge to taste of Biscoff. And it absolutely does! I squealed as I bit into it because I wasn’t expecting it.

Bars of fudge topped with Lotus biscoff biscuits
Biscoff Artisan Fudge. These bars taste just like the biscoff biscuits, and are so creamy too!

Sally: And that’s exactly what we want from it. We could load it up to make it look theatre but then it takes away from the distinctive taste of the fudge.


When you also look at the additives and allergens that adds, we don’t want that. And my labels aren’t big enough for the bottom of the bags anyway to put all that on, you know! We want to keep it simple.


We do the Celebration Panibois loaves. They’re a massive loaf and they’ve got Cadburys chocolate on top because you make it a bit more fun for a celebration. So before you know it, you’ve started to add all those extra little bits in, that’s actually in a chocolate bar. So it’s having that balance.

A loaf of fudge topped with chocolate and various chocolate bars
A Celebration Panibois. A perfect birthday gift!

Marcus: If you remember rightly, Valentines was the first time we came across it. We were six flavours in and our list of ingredients and subsequently our allergens were really low. Milk was the only allergen we had. Or sulphites because at the time we were doing Rum and Raisin, and Baileys. And that was it. The list of ingredients was three, four, five items.


Then we were doing this Valentine’s special with love heart chocolates and things like that. All of a sudden you’re coming out with words I’d never seen before, I was like what is that?!


So you know, it has a place, but for me, this is where my years of experience really help me. It’s top quality. The flavourings that I’m using, I’m using a French company that I’ve used for years, they are the best at what they do, any top pastry chef in this world uses that brand. It’s all natural, they extract the flavour out of items. If it says strawberry on it, it’s 100% strawberry.



And I guess for you, that means you’re able to have that creative enjoyment, that trial and error process of different flavours.


Marc: Definitely. I think it works both ways because it gives me the enjoyment in making it, it gives Sally the enjoyment in selling it, it gives the customer the enjoyment of knowing that they’re getting a really quality product.


Sally: He chucked a batch away once and I said “why are you doing that?!”, and he was like “I’m not happy with it.”


Marc: For me, I always go by, if you’re not all in then you’re all out. It’s got to be right. So there were batches after batches where I just wasn’t happy.


Sally: I was like “can’t we just give it to the neighbours. Don’t waste it!”


Marc: I didn’t want to give it to people, they’ll know I’ve not done it right. And I’m not happy with it, you know.


Sally: I can understand now why he wasn’t happy with certain things. It’s taken a long few weeks and hours of working to get that. And every now and then you change it a little bit more don’t you.


Marc: Yeah sometimes you have to. I mean fudge is such a complex thing to make. Anyone that says it is easy is lying. Things like the weather. The weather massively effects how fudge turns out. If it’s a really dry day your fudge can take an hour, and hour and a bit. If it’s a really moist day it can be on the stove for hours.


A batch of fudge will take me around two hours. So obviously you’re limited then. Like Sally said, on Monday I did a 9 hour shift, which in comparison to what I was used to a year ago is nothing. I managed to make five batches and I walked out of that day a bit disappointed that it’s only five batches.


But you know, it’s the kitchen at home, there’s only so much space I’ve got. It’s wiping down after each batch, washing the pan and other things like that.



Obviously the UK is starting to open back up. How are you feeling about juggling Shut The Fudge Door with work? Is it here to stay?


Marc: The real test for us will come in the next few weeks or certainly by mid May when I get back to work full time. But you know, we’ve invested a lot into this, and like I say, if you’re not all in, you’re all out. And we’re all in so we will make this work.


Sally: Yeah we’ll work around it. This is not just a lockdown love, there’s so much more we can do with it. I would never have thought a few months ago I could speak so much about fudge. I didn’t know fudge was so interesting!



Has it been quite exciting realising this could be your future?


Sally: Yeah. We feel like, well I feel like, we’ve just fallen into it. I know we talked about it and were like, yeah let’s give it a go.


You should always have an aspiration to work towards something, but if you don’t have that full on expectation, you shouldn’t expect people to buy your fudge, you just then fall into it a lot easier.


And then all of a sudden you’re like, actually….I mean I didn’t doubt for one second that people would like it, you just don’t expect it to take off so quickly.


It is exciting. It’s exciting to think we’re only a few months in and we’ve got a website going and I would never have thought that. I think that takes us to that next level, it looks more professional than just ‘DM me’ and all that.


And we’re registered as a limited company and thinking oh my goodness.


Marc: And things like this as well, you know like what we’re doing now speaking to you. We were on BBC Wiltshire two weeks ago, just things like that is so exciting. Because it shows that people are taking an interest into you.



It shows that people are interested in more than just buying fudge, they’ve bought into your brand.


Sally: Yeah I think so, I’d like people to be part of our journey.


Marc: You capture people with your story.



I think you’ve done that really well. I think the first time I saw you guys was with the Batman post that you did. For me that was different, I wanted to read it, I wanted to save Batman!


Sally: We need to remember things like that, we need to stay with that and keep with those interesting things. It’s about keeping that story isn’t it.


Marc: It is.


That came about, it’s a bit of a sad thing for me because, our son Alfie, he loves to be involved. And we do a lot in the kitchen, he made a lasagne the other day with me.


But this, we don’t allow him anywhere near this. Because its health and safety, its customers. But he’s always like, “I wanna help with the fudge!”

A Lego Batman stuck upside down head first in a piece of fudge. Lego Penguin has him captured!
Holy fudge Batman, Penguin's got you now!

And I’m, you know, trying to become a food photographer at the same time, we’ve bought some props and things. A few weeks ago we’re there with it on the table. I’ve got my camera and he’s there just playing with his Lego. We finished the shoot and I’m just going to throw these bits in the bin. So I was like right, come on, come and help me, give me Batman.


And that’s how that came about. So he felt a little bit involved in it.



It gives it that family vibe and it tells people about you. It reminds people there’s people behind this. How has it been, working together on this, a family venture?


Marc: Awful, awful. She’s the boss. She cracks the whip too much. I want to go back to work.


Sally: Do you know what, we met at work. I should have been his boss but on the basis that we were getting married, I couldn’t. So we spent the first few years working together.

And then I went off and had Alfie, and Marc carried on in that world. I really missed the hospitality side of things. And I missed working with him.


So it was nice to then have something in common again. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t agree on everything. But we get on.


Marc: There’s very separate parts to the business that we do.


Sally: I don’t tell him how to make fudge and he doesn’t tell me how to sell.


Marc: Sally’s all marketing. At first I was trying to be on Instagram as well. My posts weren’t the same as her posts and it was like right, ok well you take over that then.

She’s the marketing, the packaging and all that and I do all the fun exciting stuff.


Photo of Sally and Marc together
Sally & Marc, dream team!
"When someone buys fudge off us, they’re growing our business, they’re growing our family, and they’re growing our future.
That’s really important to us."



Sally: He just cooks it and then all he has to do is sit down and I have all the other bits to pick up. You know, pack it, send it, the website, the marketing.


Marc: But then I deal with all the kitchen side of it you know, health and safety, HACCP’s (hazard analysis and critical control point – food standards agency), all of that. And that helps us whizz through with the EHO (environmental health officer), you know. Just pointing out to him that I’ve been in the business 25 years and I’m still a working Executive Chef that has just had an EHO inspection and, as always, passed with five stars.


Sally: It works doesn’t it?


Marc: It does work, yeah.


Sally: It is exciting. It’s nice for us to have that something to focus on. It’s given Marc a focus, but myself, another purpose from being a mum.



What are your thoughts on being part of the small business community?


Sally: For me, it’s a massive community. You start interacting, whether it’s with people like yourself, other fudge companies, you know we have fudge companies that are following us. Some are just starting out. And then you feel like you go up another level again and then you can help other people. And it all works together.


Even as we grow, I would always like to be part of, support local and small business.

We follow this other company and they’ve grown massively, very quickly, over a twelve month period, maybe two years. And they do so much to help small businesses, they do loads of collaborations, and that is somewhere that, as we grow, I would always like to keep in with that.


It is a community. I think I’m part of it a lot more because I’m part of those Instagram’s, part of those shares, those hashtags.


Right at the beginning, this lady contacted us. She does wax melts, she’s based in Essex. She messaged saying she’d like to do a bit of collaboration with us. She wanted to send a gift with her monthly subscriptions and that month she wanted to do fudge.


So then she’s helped us, we’re helping her, we’re expanding on her side. And then today actually she messaged and we’re going to do something else together. She’s a wax melts company, there’s nothing in there that’s linked. But she wants to grow and us to grow along with her.


How amazing would that be, that we grow as businesses together? There’s no snobbery in

helping anyone.

Slices of dark chocolate fudge with chopped up nuts and dried food in it
Dark chocolate fruit and nut. Sally's favourite and next on my list to try!

Marc: I think for me, small businesses, certainly in the last five to ten years, it’s been a bit of a journey. Being within the hospitality industry I’ve seen a lot more of it. Certainly the Michelin star side of it, very big on going with the small reputable suppliers, producers.


I see now businesses going back to what they were in the 40s, 50s, 60s. Very small, go and get your greengrocer, your butchers, your fishmongers. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll never lose the Asda’s, the Tesco’s, Amazon, you know. But it’s shifting, it’s shifting away from the big retailers. And a lot of those local, more independents are starting to come back in.


I would say it’s the beer industry that grew that. The microbrewery. They really really pushed that. And that’s where people started going ‘hmm, if microbreweries can start taking on people like Heineken and your big brands, then we can do it anywhere.’


I think the mentality has shifted. People do think now ‘yes I will go to my butchers, I will go here, and there. Yes I might pay a little bit more, but do you know what, the flavour between that and that is immense.’


Sally: I’ve always liked buying things that are handmade or local. If I know I can get gifts that are a bit quirkier, and help a few people. Even if it’s going to help someone that works for a franchise like Usborne books, you know you’re helping them and you’re getting good quality. You might pay a couple more quid but you’re helping someone in their small business and we all know what that is like.


When someone buys fudge off us, they’re growing our business, they’re growing our family, and they’re growing our future. That’s really important to us.


And I think, like you said at the beginning about our journey and how we come across, I think we’ve always got to remember that. And I think if we’ve got aspirations to grow this business, then don’t forget about how you started.


Marc: It’s your roots. The roots of your business.


Sally: So I think with small businesses, even if you’re going to grow to as big as confectioners like Thorntons, it’s looking after everyone else along the way.

 

I can hand on heart say, I have never tasted fudge like Shut The Fudge Door produce. The flavours are insane.


After the interview, they shared with me some ideas for the future, and I genuinely believe they will continue to grow and continue to blow us away with their flavour sensations.


To be part of their story, follow them on Facebook or Instagram (@shutthefudgedoor) and visit www.shutthefudgedoor.com to check out their latest menu and order away! Quick, before I buy it all!


Lyds, out x

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