Sweet success in the suburbs

TAMLYN STEWART
Last updated 05:00 26/01/2013
Fudge Cottage
SWEET TREAT: Aileen Costin and Kevin Burns from the Fudge Cottage pour hot fudge on to a table as they prepare a new batch of the sweet stuff.

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The Fudge Cottage is a weight-watcher's nightmare. Temptation lines every shelf.

The family-owned craft confectionery business lost its Arts Centre premises in the February 2011 earthquake and is now settling into its new premises in a small store in Bishopdale Mall.

Managing director Kevin Burns says it took five months to get operating again.

The Fudge Cottage has a store at the front with a kitchen behind it. A rather magical-looking machine with a burnished copper bowl is enclosed in a glass room in the middle of the kitchen. The machine can mix up a 30kg batch of fudge. Picture that. Thirty kilograms of hot fudge.

The fudge is poured onto a table and smoothed out by hand with a bricklayer's trowel.

Confectioners handcraft birthday cakes, fudge houses and creative fudge treats to melt the frostiest heart.

Burns says The Fudge Cottage used to get a lot more customers dropping in at its central Arts Centre location, where the business was something of a Christchurch institution. People would come from around the country with shopping lists for friends and relatives.

Burns bought the business about seven years ago but can trace its origins to roughly 1990 and believes it was started by Cherry Paynter, originally from Cornwall.

The Fudge Cottage has five staff in Christchurch, and another three at a second store in Dunedin which it opened in November 2010.

The February quake meant the confectionery business had to leave its Arts Centre location. Burns still has the till tapes which show the last transaction was at 12:50, about a minute before the quake hit. Fortunately, none of their staff or customers was seriously injured.

"From my perspective it was quite clear [the building] had suffered major damage. I immediately started looking for new premises."

After he found the Bishopdale site, the new premises had to be gutted and fitted out with a food grade kitchen, and a shop at the front.

It had been a huge amount of work before they could reopen the doors.

A major problem was that while the Christchurch Fudge Cottage kitchen was closed it could not supply its Dunedin store, which ran out of product and had to supplement its range with general confectionery.

The Fudge Cottage reopened in mid-July 2011, in time to meet its commitment to participate in the annual Kids Fest programme.

"I'm sure if people on the Friday night saw us running around trying to get ready they would have doubted we'd be able to open on the Saturday, but we did," Burns said.

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Business interruption insurance cover was in place but like many businesses it is still working through its claim, Burns says. It survived on limited progress payments from its insurer and on its own financial resources - the business had been in good financial position before the quakes.

Now the Fudge Cottage is rebuilding its business. Sales are still strong during seasonal events like Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Easter and Christmas but the gaps in between are tough with sales only at 50 to 60 per cent of their pre-quake levels.

Burns hopes online sales will go some way towards supplementing that. Phone orders had also become a much bigger part of the business, and the Fudge Cottage delivers.

A few staff had left after the quake, with numbers dwindling from nine to five. A lot may have changed for the business, but Burns says the recipe is still the same.

The business is trying to become part of its new community by offering people a place to read the paper and sip a hot chocolate.

- BusinessDay

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