On a quiet street, tucked up within the city walls of Canterbury, sits the little Madame Oiseau Chocolate shop- nestled between that antiques place that only seems to open once in a blue moon, its treasures spilling forth onto the street haphazardly, and the fish and chip shop that serves up incredible southern spiced potato wedges.
Blink and you might miss it, even with its warm lavender paint and window full of treats, winking at passersby in the hope of enticing them into the small but pretty premises.
Owned by French-born Sandrine May, the shop has quietly thrived since its arrival in 2005. Despite its ongoing success, there are many who aren't in the know of its presence and I delight in pointing them down Palace Street with the promise of pleasure. A little way short of the main drag, it's a sweet surprise that brightens the corner upon which it holds. Those that are in the know, are dedicated customers. Perfect for a little gift or something extravagant, Madame Oiseau is my first stop when I need to something to impress, be it little chocolate snowmen at Christmas, love heart lollipops for broken hearted pals or chocolate owls to send in the post. Theming her chocolate by the season, Sandrine never fails to delight and can always be relied upon for innovative ideas.
I met Sandrine for a coffee one cold, winter's morning and we got to talking about Madame Oiseau and the story behind her charming Canterbury business.
Sandrine, where are you from?
I'm from France, from Abbeville in Picardie. It's not far door to door. Just three hours to get home and see my family. I originally came to England in 1996 where I met a handsome man. I was unsettled between living in the UK, France and Massachusetts and so I decided to stay with the handsome man, Kenton, who became my husband and father of my two children. I had been working in a chocolate shop in Nantucket, MA which triggered my dream and with his encouragement, finally came to realise it in Madame Oiseau.
Why did you decide to open Madame Oiseau?
Well, like I said, I had been working in a chocolate shop in Massachusetts and that's when I really fell in love with chocolate and the idea of having my own business. I wanted to work for myself, the liberty to live my life as I pleased and the ability to juggle and balance my family life as it suited us. So I started small in a town called Lydd in Romney Marsh and within six months I was supplying Liberty of London. It was a gamble that worked it seems! By word of mouth, I began to supply Melrose and Morgan, who are still my trades customers to this day, among others. My little business just went from strength to strength.
(Our full-timer, Claire, with our love heart chocolate box)
Why are you special?
Who me? (No Sandrine, the shop!) All of our chocolates are designed and handmade on the premises. We're a small team but we make everything to order. We create our own recipes and bespoke flavours upon request. Our service is quite personal and we have a great customer base with lots of regulars. We like to name people after their chocolate of choice- like Mr Baileys, who asked us to make his wife a Baileys-inspired chocolate box or oh look! Here comes Mr Coconut! Quick! Where are the coconut chocolates?
We have our bestsellers and our favourites but our stock is always changing according to the season, to customers needs and by our own whims. We're busy throughout the year with Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother and Father's Day and Halloween so you'll always see our windows rotating pumpkins, nutcrackers, little bunnies and love hearts.
What is your favourite thing to do in Canterbury?
I don't often have the time but when I do, I like a nice bowl of soup at Canteen where I sit in the window, facing the street and watch people go by. They have great flavours and are always so very friendly.
Like these Christmas snowmen!
You can support Sandrine and Madame Oiseau by visiting her Facebook page and clicking like, or more naughtily, by getting indulgent over on the shop website.
If you're in Canterbury, make sure you pop in. You won't regret it.
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