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The Comedy of Errors

Nottingham Family Business Treat Kitchen Opens New Store in Old Thorntons Site

19 June 21 interview: Adam Pickering
photos: Curtis Powell

Having been a fan of their old shop down on Wheeler Gate, we were sweetly surprised to hear about the new Treat Kitchen - from local family business TTK Confectionary - opening up in the old Thorntons site at Victoria Centre. With a long lineage of local confectionery crafting, a big focus on supporting charities and the local community, and a serious eye for sustainability, we thought we’d better check out their new shop. We chatted with two of the co-owners, Jess and Martin Barnett, and Head of Product Development, Katie Gilbert.

Tell us how about how Treat Kitchen got started - how long have you been around for and what’s the inspiration behind it?
Jess: My husband Martin, one of the co-owners, has had a sweet factory in his family since the 1890s making boiled sweets in Nottingham, so we've got that family history. We've just been around sweets a lot in our past and we wanted to bring sweets up to date, and give a modern twist on the food gifting sector really. And so we decided to combine Martin's retail and buying experience and our creativity and create Treat Kitchen to bring a bit of colour to it - to bring sweets to life.

You're obviously very passionate about sweets. What’s the idea behind the shop?
: We’re focussing on “sweet gifting” - so it’s about capturing something that tastes great but also making it look great. We want to create perfect gifts, to maybe celebrate something or say thank you, or happy birthday, and we do that by bringing quality design and quality confectionery to create a gift that looks as good as it tastes, whether it's something to give away or to treat yourself. Our own range includes sweets, toffee, and gummy sweets, but we also do gingerbread biscuits. A lot of those come in vegan options too. And in store we're doing cake, coffee and ice cream as well. 

You're working with the old Thontons team as well, how did that come about?
: So obviously we all heard about Thorntons suddenly having to close, but we wanted to utilise and really showcase the talent that this store already has as a team; working with the team over the last few days as we’ve gotten ready to open has made me see what a great bunch of people they are. I think they're just going to do a fantastic job for our Treat Kitchen, and the fact that we've all been able to work together is just amazing.

You’ve mentioned that you’re a family business, can you tell us a bit more about who’s involved in the business?
: Yeah, so it's owned by myself, my husband and my brother in law Tom. We've also got another husband and wife working at our production facility. And we've got Katie, who is our head of product development - she’s pretty much a family member as well. The family element has just grown by incorporating more and more talented people within the team, really. We like to nurture our talent, and watch people grow and develop.

With the success of the wholesale side of the business and the growth that you've had there over recent years, what made you decide to come back into the retail side and open up shop again?
: Well this was a bit of a unique opportunity. The location is slap bang in the centre of the Victoria Centre, right at the entrance - people already associate this store with confectionery, and we’ve got this fantastic, ready made team who are so experienced in this particular field of confectionery. We just felt we’d be able to utilise this space really well. We're also in a position where we can support the great organisations we’re working with, like Base 51, and Double Impact, and the store allows us to really promote and support those local organisations. So it's a bit of a homecoming to Nottingham and really strengthens those links that we have with the community.

What does the work that you do with those local charities entail? Is there any particular reason you decided to go with those charities?
: Well they both fall into that category of people slipping through the gap. Base 51 focus mainly on supporting young people ages 11 to 25, and then we've got Double Impact supporting those in recovery from all forms of addiction - we've supported them through their Towards Work programme where we've employed people and given work experience services. And we’ve supported Base 51 via helping them create a website, and supporting them with marketing recruitment. We're doing dedicated instore ranges where proceeds will go to support those charities, such as Outburst which is Base 51’s LGBTQ+ group.
Martin: 100% of profits from our Outburst range go towards Base 51, which is a young person's counselling charity, but the Outburst programme is seriously underfunded after recent government cuts. They’re actually trying to hire a new counsellor to provide the service at the moment, it doesn't currently have a full time counsellor. The waiting list for counselling and for young people in Nottingham is already about 33 weeks over the original eighteen week target - young people are waiting up to a year to get counselling, which in these times is obviously not acceptable. The counselling service is not just for the young people either, it's for the parents to learn how to best help them help their children through that process. 

100% of profits from our Outburst range go towards Base 51, which is a young person's counselling charity, but the Outburst programme is seriously underfunded after recent government cuts

It’s such a shame to hear they’re struggling at the moment...
: Yep, and they do a group aimed at people who have perpetrated or been victims of knife crime, and they target high need areas in the city centre. There's a horrible statistic out there that says that the young people in Nottingham have less chance of success than any other city in the country - even all the big cities, London, Manchester, Birmingham. So if you're a young person under the age of 25, you're statistically more likely to come from a poor background and be struggling to survive in Nottingham than if you’re from any other city in the country.

We’ve featured Double Impact in LeftLion before - I’m interested to know how you’ve came to supporting this addiction-focussed charity? It’s maybe not your typical partnership for a sweet shop.
: Well, I guess for us, we wanted to support both ends of the spectrum. So we're very keen on helping young people. And we've done that through apprenticeship schemes via our association with Base 51 and a Kickstarter scheme. Double Impact perhaps is slightly different in that their service users tend to be a little bit older, they tend to have had substance and addiction issues for decades. And they get to a point when they finally get clean, but that substance abuse and those addiction issues mean that their speech; their ability to react to questions in an interview, for example, means they find it very difficult to even get work experience. So we use TTK to give placements to people from that programme. We’ve had 16 placements so far, and five people have gone on to get employment with us. And, you know, if you speak to people who are trying to get funding for that sector, it's hard because it's not a very popular cause to fundraise for. Whereas with kids and animals, of course, it’s much easier to secure funding.

Was there a particular experience that led you to supporting Double Impact?
: It came from when we had the shop down on Wheeler Gate - there was a lot of service users, or people with substance and addiction issues, around that area. All we really saw was them either being fined for leaving a doorway or being moved on or pushed around. We used to park in a couple of underground car parks nearby that were underground, and there were groups of people from that sort of demographic just asleep or hanging around in the corners. We thought - we’ve got to do better than just pushing them underground and out of sight like this. Double Impact are very good at taking people out of years of sustained behaviour and helping them to acclimatise back to a more normal world. We like supporting that mix of both young and older people.
Jess: And because they’re on our doorstep, we’re able to build relationships and say, right, it's the month of June, what do you need? What's going on, you know, bring us up to date!

Do you want to talk a bit about some of the kind of new products that people can expect to find, and some of the new things you've got coming up at Treat Kitchen?
: We have a massive selection of products and they all cater to different demographics and age groups. One of our main focuses is glass-based packaging, giving our products to people in nice things that you can reuse. The Outburst range is a favourite of mine, it carries on our positive messaging selection that we’ve been working on for a while. So we have a great range with funny, quirky puns and things like that, like the “Things are alripe” bottles filled with gummy avocados. Then going towards more seasonal times we have an amazing range of gingerbread as well, with a new design for this year.

I’m curious about your avocado sweets - do they taste like avocado?
: They don’t, no, I don’t think that would be very nice.

Agreed. So you’re doing a lot on the sustainability front too - tell us more?
: We're trying to convert our whole packaging range to more sustainable options, and probably midway through next year we should be able to get to pretty much 100% recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable packaging, which for our range of 150 to 200 products is quite a challenge. So wherever you see glass in our store they can be recycled, and almost everything is made from recycled glass and plastic. Anything that's plastic, we also make sure it's specifically recyclable as well, to further promote that sustainability message. We’re always making sure that everything we do shouts about the reusability element too. And then there's a lot of other things that we're doing as well outside of products - making sure that we source all the other products in store locally, and not getting it from very far away, like our coffee, cake, and ice cream. 

I hear you’ve got a carbon neutral workforce - how does that work?
: So we're working closely with a company called Ecologi to carbon offset each individual staff member by planting a certain amount of trees. And that's continuous - so what we've done with our new store members, for example, is planted heaps more trees, to be able to offset that and hopefully go towards building our own forest. If we go on holiday abroad, our flights are included in that scheme too. 

That’s great, and I love that you’re working with lots of local businesses that we like...
: Well we were already working with Stewarts Coffee on the wholesale side, so they were the natural choice for our barista coffee here - the coffee’s just great and they’ve been amazing training up our staff as baristas. We’re working with Bluebell Dairy just over in Derby who make all of our ice cream too, so that’s nice and local, and they’ve got some really exciting flavours as well. And we’ve known Jasmin at Homemade for years - they make all our cakes, and I know that their brownies in particular are very popular in Nottingham so it’s great to bring them to the shop. We really love being a part of the Nottingham community, so we’re always going to go with quality local producers wherever possible.

Check out the new Treat Kitchen in Victoria Centre or visit them online here

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