Interview with Julia Cunningham, the founder of Truffle Witch

We love chocolate! But until we started working with talented Chocolatier Julia Cunningham, aka the wonderful Truffle Witch, we didn’t realise how much work went into creating delicious handmade chocolates and truffles.

Julia kindly shares her story with us here. And if you want to taste her chocolates (which we highly recommend!) you can visit her online shop here.

What’s your career background?

The early part of my career was mostly HR, industrial relations and admin roles. Following redundancy, I started work for Sussex Police in a civilian role as a radio controller and emergency call taker.

At the time, it was a stop gap; little did I know I’d stay there for 23 years, becoming a tutor and a trade union rep along the way. I’m also a qualified Person Centered Counsellor, a Reiki Master, a trained Barista and I have a certificate in latte art.

Where did the idea for Trufflewitch come from?

I honestly don’t know! I call myself an accidental Chocolatier. I’d always fancied the idea of opening a little cafe but never seriously thought it would happen. Like a lot of people, I’ve always loved chocolate but, becoming a Chocolatier had never even entered my head.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I don’t want to over-share the gory details so, let’s just say that, around the middle of 2016, events in my personal and professional life were messily intertwined and going nowhere. One day I woke up with the gut feeling that the only way to move forward was to quit my job.

I was very fortunate to have savings in the bank and be living with my mother (another thing that was supposed to be temporary!) as this gave me the freedom to walk into work that very afternoon and hand in my notice – just like that!

I did a two-day course that covered everything you need to know about opening a coffee shop (including that all important Barista and latte art training) and, by the beginning of November, I was viewing premises for my cafe. 

I’d started making chocolate truffles as an infrequent hobby a year or two earlier and I had the vague idea of selling some of them to friends but, it wasn’t a serious business plan. I had set up a Facebook page under the name Truffle Witch so you could say the name came way before there was ever a business.

I did a few craft fairs while I was looking for a suitable (and affordable) spot for my cafe and,somehow, chocolate just took over. Opening a cafe faded into the background while I put my chocolate hobby on a proper business footing, getting professional training, registering with my local authority and obtaining my five star hygiene rating. 

While doing my Barista training I discovered that I really enjoyed the process of making frothy coffee and the desire to have a little cafe hadn’t completely left me. I found that going to different locations for craft fairs and markets also appealed.

Consequently, my next brainwave was to combine both worlds and get a coffee van from which I could also sell chocolates. Getting a customised van was one problem after another and swallowed up almost a year of my life. By the time things were running smoothly the economies of the festival and event trade had started to change for the worse, plus the whole thing was far more stressful and physically challenging than I’d anticipated.

Cutting a long story short, early in 2019 I decided to cut my losses, sell the van and go where fate was determined to lead me – to chocolate!

What’s your USP?

All my chocolate and confectionery products are, quite literally, handmade by me – I don’t even use a tempering machine. I use fine Belgian and French chocolate, high quality, fresh ingredients, and pay a lot of attention to presentation and packaging. If you like delicious flavours and a luxury feel without the pretension and outrageous prices, I’m your witch!

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

I’m not sure – regular social media posts definitely help. I really only moved my business from live events to predominantly online sales early last year (a pre-Covid decision) so I’m still finding what works for me. Enlisting the aid of Hannah Martin has been a good strategy so far!

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome? 

Me! I was born on the cusp of Leo and Virgo and often feel that the personality traits of both signs are at war within me. In business this can translate to making bold, brave decisions yet lacking the self-confidence and self-esteem to pull them off. Imposter syndrome kicks in and I have to drag myself out of the ‘I’m not good enough’ rabbit hole. 

And your proudest moment so far?

All things considered, I’d say I’m proudest of the fact that I actually had the guts to strike out on my own and do this at all.

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

I’m still struggling with this one. I think the lines are automatically blurred when you work from home and you have to make more of an effort to separate business from leisure. I find I’m much more productive when I’m in the kitchen early in the morning – sometimes as early as 4 am.

The unprecedented volume of online sales pre-Christmas last year taught me a lot, especially about the need to pace myself and get proper rest and nutrition when I’m busy.

Love chocolate? Julia reveals the secrets to storing chocolate properly here so it doesn’t go off!

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

  1. Don’t make impulsive decisions. It’s easy to get caught up in your own enthusiasm and passion for your business and be blind to the pitfalls.
  2. Do your research. Then do some more. Then do it again.  
  3. Have faith in yourself.

Find out more about Truffle Witch.