Chocolate lovers keeping an eye on Kerikeri's Makana Confections will be thrilled a new cafe is under construction. A refurbished kitchen will see production treble from 120,000 boxes of chocolate per year, with sights set on a potential three new shops in Auckland. Christine Allen speaks to Makana director Brian Devlin.
Brian Devlin and his wife, Carole Flowers, are a dynamic team whose business development prowess brought them to the Bay of Islands where their company now produces 120,000 boxes of the chocolate every year.
Business is so sweet that after running Makana Confections for more than nine years, the duo decided to buy the empty site next door. That was three years ago and the site is now under construction.
"We spent the first five years understanding the business. But now, we've outgrown the space. Customers want coffee, and they want more of an experience."
Unlike your average store, Makana Confections allows customers to watch the goodies being made. Working with an Auckland architects, the design has been drawn up for the new cafe, a new facade and an expanded kitchen which will see chocolate production treble.
The kitchen will be visible from the cafe.
"That's part of the theatre. Customers will be able to see our new ice cream and cakes being made too - which will be made from all 14 Makana products."
And they will not be making pies or sandwiches - just sweet treats. With the increased production due to filter success from the Kerikeri store to the Blenheim outlet, Mr Devlin said Makana Confections was also looking at developing three new shops in Auckland.
The store will be refurbished by October this year, with the cafe opening in March 2016. Mr Devlin is not worried about missing summer trade.
"It's best not to start in a panic. Best to get the hand of the new business before the busy period."
He said the cafe would have settled into its routine by the following summer.
The store - which has a team of 12 in the winter and double that in the summer - gets 60,000 visitors each year, which they count with the help of chocolate samples.
Mr Devlin has had to import macadamia nuts from Australia.
"We love to promote local produce but when we found the quality of our New Zealand supplier had declined, we had no choice, we had to go overseas."
Women make up about 80 per cent of their market. Men rarely buy chocolate for themselves - usually just as gifts.
Mr Devlin is an Irish ex-pat who contracted to work in business development with the Prince's Scottish Youth Business Trust and Scottish Enterprise, where he worked with techie start-up companies in the early 1990s through the Hillington Innovation Centre in Glasgow.
He sees the potential in Northland but does not get involved in business development debates these days.
"Doing business in New Zealand is great. It's a much more stable environment and economy."