Continuing the Start Your Own series, we interviewed Jordan Leitch of Leitchy Creates about setting up a chocolate factory in her very own kitchen.
Leitchy Creates is a Sheffield based chocolate company and everything is homemade by me in my home kitchen. All my treats and chocolates are 100% natural, vegan, gluten free, grain free, refined sugar free, corn free and soy free – and everything is chocolate based.
I started my business after struggling with anxiety, depression and IBS. I had to drop out of college and cancel my university application as I wasn’t well enough mentally and physically to go forward. I started experimenting with things that didn’t upset my tummy, shared them with my local deli, set up a stall outside one Saturday morning and it all took off from there.
Now I have a few different ranges, including bars, puzzle pieces, sticks, buttons, chocolate spread, chocolate chunk granola, chia puddings and hot chocolate. I’m currently developing a few more chocolate based treats and I stock my single pralines and truffles to Cocoa Wonderland. I’m now stocking to 11 different places from shops to delis to online subscription boxes and websites. I’ve also appeared in Lifebox a few times and as of last month, Vegan tuck box.
It’s the positive response from people that has kept me going.
It’s such a lovely feeling knowing I have helped others who are struggling with various intolerances to find tummy-happy treats that don’t taste like cardboard! I’m really lucky to be doing a job that makes me happy – I’m in control and I can work in a way that suits me and my mental and physical wellbeing.
What inspired you to start Leitchy Creates?
Leitchy Creates started after I was pretty ill with a number of digestive issues. I managed to complete my A Levels and was doing a foundation art course to decide which creative path I was then going to take at uni, but unfortunately I had to drop out. My stomach issues had become too intense and overwhelming, and my mood in general was slowly getting worse. I was getting very depressed and anxious and would never leave the house without my Mum or Dad by my side.
After battling with this for a year and progressively losing more and more weight, I started to toy around with the idea of having my own business.
It actually started out as a greeting cards business on Etsy – it was accessible for me to do from the comforts of my own home and most of the time, my bed too. I started to gain more energy, confidence and weight and began to rediscover my love for food. I had always loved to cook and bake, especially with my Grandma, who taught me how joyful and social it could be, so I was excited when this gradually became a hobby again.
I still had intolerances and was still having to experiment to discover what they were, so I decided to make treats for people with dietary requirements.
Something that everyone of all ages and lifestyles could eat, including myself.
I started experimenting in the kitchen and went on several courses to learn more about free-from baking. I was regaining my love for recipe developing and I felt happy knowing my Grandma would be proud that I was carrying on the Richardson (my Mum’s side) baking genes.
It felt good having purpose and meeting like minded people, knowing I was catering and helping people who also struggled with dietary requirements. I was setting goals and feeling accomplished when I was able to reach them.
I continued learning, practising and gaining knowledge and after 5 months, I set up a stall outside my local deli. After that, I branched out to my gym and from there I started doing local farmers markets and vegan events in Sheffield.
My business has grown a lot over the past year – I now do a stall once a month and I’m stocked in 12 different shops! I went into my second year in March and I can’t wait to look back at this year, then the next.
What skills did you come to the business with already and how has this helped to grow your business?
My Grandma was the one who taught me how to bake. I started by rolling out the pastry and making little jam tarts, then tried apple crumble, followed by cupcakes, cookies etc. My brother and I also learnt to cook together and were in charge of making tea for our parents when they came home from work.
I really enjoyed baking and cooking, popping music on and doing my thing – I found it really relaxing and still do.
What’s been most useful however was going on various chocolate courses, watching and learning as I joined in. This was also amazing for my confidence and anxiety as I was thrown into an environment I wasn’t comfortable in. I was with strangers who were a lot older than me, I was in a place that wasn’t familiar and I was forced to speak out and get involved. So the skills I learnt from that were both technically and mentally beneficial.
How have bloggers and online influencers helped you grow your brand?
Getting involved in the Health Bloggers Community and using Instagram in particular were hugely helpful in the growth of Leitchy Creates. Most beneficial to my growth mentally however was attending Livia’s Kitchen Afternoon Tea back in September 2016.
It was here that I met @blueberrysmiles22 and @gemsjourneyx – two girls who pretty much saved my life.
It sounds dramatic, I know, but they truly made me feel part of something. When I was ill, there were very few opportunities for social interaction, so having people to talk to that shared my passions and understood and supported what I was going through was truly a life safer.
After that day, I started going down to London pretty often, at first alongside my parents, then on my own. Slowly our little foodie group started to grow, and now I’ve got the best group of friends down in London who support me, make me laugh and most importantly understand me and make me feel a part of something.
Tessa Steward from @londonpaleogirl has also been incredibly helpful, offering me several opportunities and helping me grow, and @lifebox offered me the chance to be a part of their subscription boxes.
And while they’re not an influencer or brand, my local deli, Porterbrook, were the ones who encouraged me to set up my first ever stall to see what reaction I got from the public. So thank you.
What’s the most challenging thing about setting up your own chocolate business?
I think the most challenging aspect has been my anxiety. We’re all our biggest critic, constantly shooting ourselves down and comparing ourselves to others, believing we should be doing better. But we all do that. I have come so far in the past couple of years – from feeling anxious and lonely and worrying about food, to someone who eats everything, is super social and has her own business.
Also, as it’s just me running my business, I haven’t got the support, motivation or encouragement of a team, so there are certain aspects of the business I struggle with on my own. It would be nice to have someone to share some of the work load with and one day I hope to welcome a team to Leitchy Creates.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you started?
Everything takes time. I always knew that start-up businesses usually take five years or so to be properly set up and running smoothly (ish) but I don’t think I realised how much work I’d have to put in for that to happen. People tend to think that by running your own business, you’ve automatically got a good income, as it’s just you. But the amount of money you make each month can vary dramatically, especially in those first few years.
And especially around summer time with chocolate!
Having said that, I have the freedom to decide how I work, when I work, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
I can work at my own pace, I’ve got no one telling me what to do and I can turn up my music and sing my heart out if I want to – and I like it that way.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting their own food company?
Believe in yourself. Be patient. Go with your gut. Surround yourself with people who support you and will cheer you on. Talk to people who are going through the same thing as you and ask for their advice.
Be kind to yourself and look at how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.
Let people taste your products and talk to people – they like to know the person behind the brand. Don’t give up, keep badgering and keep learning. If you truly believe you will succeed, you will.
Finally, be proud of yourself for being brave enough to follow your dreams.