In a time to come, Tasnim Manji would like to hear Kenyan chocolate mentioned in the same conversations as the Belgian and Swiss powerhouses.
Today, however, Mrs Manji (no relation to the biscuit empire) is hard at work filling her clients’ orders for the swiftly approaching Valentine’s Day.
Hers was a completely different path before joining the chocolate industry. As a trained pharmacist, she helped run a family business in Nairobi before a trip to Dundee, Scotland to pursue a Master’s Degree in palliative care led her to stray from her set path and into ‘chocolate school.’
She says of the experience, “I was so exhausted by the time I was doing that course. I’ve always loved chocolate and opted to extend my stay to go to school for chocolate.”
Despite initial trepidation, her family was soon converted and got fully behind her in her newly found passion. She has since received further training from the Lindt Academy in South Africa and then some more in Dubai.
As a novice, Mrs Manji shares her then experiences with her product, “since the temperature here is different from Dundee, my chocolate didn’t temper correctly and would stick to the moulds!”
Sometimes the results were an unrecognisable blob. She did get better with time and went to work, practising in her home kitchen and force-feeding her results to her friends and family, getting much-needed feedback which encouraged her even more.
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Her creativity was soon evident.
“I started withdrawing gradually from the pharmacy,” Mrs Manji responds when asked about the transition.
She finally went into chocolate full-time as word got around about her product. She can more than attest to the power of word of mouth in promoting a business.
In June 2012, Sweet Art Creations was born and soon got too big for her kitchen, then for a rented space in Hurlingham, eventually landing her at her current location on 6th Parklands Avenue.
Larger orders started to come in and Sweet Art Creations has to date provided chocolate treats to the largest corporations, hotels and even airlines in Kenya.
She’s still not satisfied and wants to spread her company’s wings even further, looking to win more clientele at home and abroad.
Sweet Art Creations sources most of its chocolate from Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast. Mrs Manji has heard of a cocoa growing pilot project in Kilifi and would like to be one of the first to try the flavours of home when those cocoa beans are ready.
“We get our chocolate from different origins,” she says, stating that there’s a danger in relying on single-origin products.
Coupled with not being able to get the quantities desired, the flavours would also be monotonous and restrictive to the creativity that is so crucial in a chocolatier’s trade.
Hers is a niche business. “You will not find us in the big supermarkets,” the Sweet Art Creations founder says. She prefers to supply ‘farm shops’ as she refers to one of her client bases.
The Shamba Café & Shop, Monty’s Kenya and Spinners Web in Kitusuru are some of the stores that carry her products. The out-of-town stockists include Barney’s Restaurant and Butterbean in Nanyuki.
Mrs Manji prefers to stick to the gourmet chocolate experience, focusing on the essence of her product rather than mass production.
Her product is thus slightly higher priced than the traditional brands.
Sweet Art Creations products include bonbon chocolate which is intricately designed bite-sized pieces with filling inside, chocolate bars in 25 flavours which Mrs Manji says change seasonally and mendiats to satisfy the fruit and nut-induced cravings.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, necessity forced them to think outside the chocolate box, coming up with honey-comb rocks known as crunchy chocolate in the market.
It has quickly become one of their best sellers! As of 2021, they had added Turkish delights to their repertoire. Those come in handy during the Islamic holiday of Eid.
As Mrs Manji supervises her team’s last-minute preparations for Valentine’s Day, a crucial period in her business, she’s also thinking ahead to the Easter period.
Her peak seasons, she reveals are Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Eid, Diwali and Mothers’ Day. She’s however working on adding Fathers’ Day to Sweet Art Creation’s calendar.
“We’ll do something special for fathers this year,” is all she can reveal right now. They used to work around the clock during these periods but over time, they’ve gotten “more organised.”
They’ll still pull a 5am to 10pm shift relatively often to fulfil their clients’ high chocolatey expectations.
When she takes off her chocolatier hat, Mrs Manji enjoys spending time with her family.
She confesses her handicapped skills at golf and prefers to stay off the greens and only watches her husband and children tee off.
Of her company’s future, Mrs Manji says, “I’d want to export my product, be on the world map.”
Rather than her “little lab” (she was a pharmacist after all) she’d like to open her own factory and indulge in the bean-to-bar aspect of chocolate. She reckons it would be an interesting step which would further push her creativity.