Life is short, so keep it sweet: Daisies store profile
Life should be fun, according to Deirdre McCanny, owner of Belfast’s high end chocolate business Co Couture – and she intends to inject a little joy back into life this spring, as she tells NR.
The premises on Chichester Street known to shoppers as Co Couture have been rebranded as Daisies during the pandemic, inspired by the Nadine Satir poem ‘I’d pick more daisies’.
“It’s about just enjoying and celebrating the moment,” Sion Mills native Deirdre (51) says.
“We’ve just started this initiative where we’re rewarding kindness, so everyone who’s had a gift or an act of kindness given to them, they can nominate the person and then every month we’ do a draw and just send out care packages to keep everyone’s vibrations and energy high.
“We really want this taking off about the wee hampers, people rewarding acts of kindness, so that we can start people thinking and really focusing their efforts on kindness and fun.”
And she’s mulling over more ideas to bring the city centre alive ahead of Easter with the help of fellow traders..
“Life should be fun, so for Easter we came up with the idea – we’re hoping to do an Easter Egg hunt in the city, but working with other small businesses.
“We’re going to take an extract from the ‘I’d pick more daisies’ poem and take some lines from that as a clue and work with some local businesses to have a big hunt that will come to an end just before Easter on the 17th – that would be quite fun.
“It’s been a tough time and I think everyone needs to remember how to laugh and smile again and not to be worrying about stuff that we can’t control, which is what the poem is about.”
Deirdre launched Co Couture in 2008 after a visit to high end chocolatier Michel Cluizel during a visit to New Work.
She had originally trained as a chef but found it wasn’t for her: “I just wanted to be passionate about it and that wasn’t showing in what I was producing.”
Instead, she embarked on a career change into international sales and marketing which eventually saw her working with Invest NI on FDI in London and New York.
“It was a lot of travel and I wanted to do something which was closer to home and for some reason – I really don’t know why – chocolate was in my gut,” Deirdre says.
“I kind of fell into a fine chocolate shop in New York in Manhattan, Michel Cluizel and it was just incredible – once you taste fine chocolate it’s just incredible, it’s so different.
“So I wanted to change my career and I decided I’ll just make chocolate and I’ll set up a shop making chocolate and that’s what I did.
“But because I decided to work at the premium end, from the get-go we were very lucky and we won a lot of awards and we just kept winning awards.”
Plaudits and awards
Over the years, Deirdre has stacked up plaudits from the International Chocolate Awards, the Academy of Chocolate Awards and the Great Taste Awards, and the most recent was in 2020 when her 60% hot chocolate mix won Gold in the International Chocolate Award’s last drinking chocolate competition in 2020.
“We won a special commendation out of all the hot chocolate mixes in the world and the reason for that was that our hot chocolate mix is 60% cocoa solids, but we’ve made it so that it’s very like commercial hot chocolate on the palate, so you wouldn’t realise it’s 60%,” Deirdre says.
“It was a really great win and we’re so proud of that chocolate – it’s so good especially for children. A lot of those drinks children have are nonsense sugary drinks and this is actually so good for the body, mind and soul.”
And one of her most famous visitors was actor Richard E Grant, who learned how to make truffles there while visiting Belfast a few years ago.
At a time when new rules for selling of HFSS are looming, Deirdre is justly proud of her product, saying it’s low in sugar but created in such a way that your palate doesn’t realise.
“It’s really low in sugar, but your palate isn’t working that out – it’s really good because your body can have it and it’s really satisfying, but it’s loaded with stuff that gives you good energy,” she says.
“We have a real focus on low sugar – we actually go high fat, but good fat. I’m a big advocate for good fat being really good for you, so for example, we don’t’ work with semi-skimmed milk, we only work with whole milk and it’s so good for you.”
Revamping the store
Over the years the premises in an old Georgian building close to City Hall have undergone a number of revamps.
“When you’re in it you could be anywhere in the world and it’s also very peaceful. We’ve been working with the guys at Dark Horse Workshops and they have naturally deforested wood – all our furniture are these large pieces of wood, like works of art,” Deirdre says.
“Initially it was kind of three different spaces, the front, the middle and the back. The front used to just be the shop and the middle would have been the kitchen where I made all the chocolates.
“Now we’ve moved the kitchen into the very back and organised ourselves a wee bit better. We expanded the seating area into the middle bit so it’s a seating area and a middle kitchen – our finishing kitchen so you can see where we finish everything.
“It’s a wee bit of everything to be honest – it’s a shop, it’s a cafe, it’s make your own, there’s a bit of production going on so it’s a little bit of everything.”
The arrival of the pandemic just before the key season of Easter 2020 was a disaster, Deirdre admits
It was an early Easter that year, so the Easter stock was already ready but the shop had to close during lockdown.
Instead, they decided to post their stock to customers – and that was disastrous, partly because the postal service was under so much pressure.
“The post was sitting in the Post Office for weeks and then if you’ll remember there was that brilliant heatwave, so it was such a disaster,” Deirdre reminisces.
“Literally, everything went into meltdown, including our chocolate, and when it arrived it was a mess. We lost thousands of pounds and it literally broke me in every which way.”
Her response was to adapt the recipe so that the product could be shipped, while diversifying the business in order to protect against future crises.
“What it has meant is that there’s more choice for customers and I think the customers are kind of enjoying that, because before it was mainly just chocolate. We’re still wondering what to do online – we’re about 50:50 at this stage.”
The name Co Couture now applies purely to the chocolate, while everything else falls under the brand name Daisies.
“Because we’ve won so many awards for the chocolate and because the chocolate world is very precious, it was important to protect the name Co Couture,” Deirdre says.
“With Daisies we always work with food that’s good for you – there’s as little processing as possible and we source everything as sustainably as we can. We’re currently about 95% zero waste and hopefully next month we’ll be 99-100% zero waste.”
Since that pandemic shock, Daisies is the place to go for an indulgent treat – even if you don’t like chocolate.
“We do coffee, we work with Boden Park coffee and their coffee is absolutely incredible with a really dark roast, super smooth finish,” Deirdre says.
“We do gelato – we work with Aaron Healey at Moon Gelato. He went to Italy to learn how to make gelato and boy did he learn how to make gelato, it’s really incredible.
“And then we work with Roisin at Taste by Roisin – she would make sourdough breads and things like that for us that we make into toast – and we have other wee treats that we work with like wee desserts and biscuits and things like that. We make the most incredible sourdough waffles.
“We also have the most wonderful Sicilian cannoli, imported from Sicily, and we would add in the flavouring ourselves to the ricotta cream. We fill them fresh so it’s a very authentic experience. It’s funny because we get Italians coming into the shop who take pictures of the cannoli to send back to their family in Italy and their family are envious of the cannoli they’re getting in Belfast.
“We’re also starting to sell ingredients, we started doing gluten-free by accident. We put them in jars and you buy the ingredients to make yourself.
“So on Pancake Tuesday we’ll be doing kits so that you can make pancakes. Easter’s coming up so we’ll have our own handmade Easter eggs which I’m working on at the minute. I’ve a very low boredom threshold so I tend to drive everyone mad! I tend to switch things up a lot.”
Deirdre is now keen to post more interactive videos showing people how to use the ingredient kits she sells.
“”One of the things we are thinking about is Pancake Tuesday – we could sell the ingredients and go through with people how you make them, because they’re so easy.
“Even making chocolate is so easy but a lot of people make it sound very complicated. It does require a lot of patience before you know what you’re doing, but it’s the same for all cooking and we’d like to share the wealth!”
To read the full feature in Neighbourhood Retailer magazine, click HERE.