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10 sweet years for the Willy Wonkas of Altrincham Market

Sam Joseph's Claire and Sam Pugh have been a mainstay at Market House since its relaunch in 2014.

The couple behind an Altrincham chocolatier have thanked local residents for their support as they mark their 10th year as a business.

Claire and Sam Pugh started Sam Joseph Chocolates in March 2014 and ran a stall at Altrincham Market before becoming one of the launch tenants inside Market House when it reopened in September 2014.

They’ve since become firm favourites thanks to their mouth-watering range of handmade chocolates, hot chocolate, pastries and cakes.

And as they get ready for a busy Easter period, they wanted to reflect on a decade of hard work that had seen them build a loyal following in the Altrincham area and beyond.

“A lot of chocolatiers have been closing down which is why we feel we need to celebrate 10 years and take the opportunity to thank everyone who has supported us along the way,” said Claire.

“We couldn't ever have imagined how busy and popular this place was going to be, or that we were going to be here for 10 years. 

“It's grown over the years and it's been fabulous to see regular faces coming back. It’s so lovely to see the support of the local community because people really do treasure this place.”

Claire and Sam Pugh started Sam Joseph Chocolates in March 2014 and moved into Altrincham Market later that year

Both Claire, 40, and Sam, 34, are pastry chefs by trade, and met when Claire - then head pastry chef at The Lowry Hotel in Manchester - interviewed Sam for a sous chef role in the kitchen.

“The rest is history!” laughed Claire. “We worked together there for about a year, then moved down to London together, which wasn't really for either of us, so we decided to move back up north. 

“We'd always thought about opening a business and thought that would be the time to take the plunge.”

Setting up under the name Sam Joseph - Sam’s first and middle names - the pair originally started out doing farmers’ and artisan markets.

After they’d done a few at Altrincham Market, Nick Johnson and Jenny Thompson - the market’s operators - approached them about the food hall concept they had envisaged for Market House.

“We moved in in September, and we've been here ever since,” said Claire.

A selection of Sam Joseph's handmade truffles

Originally offering just handmade chocolates, the pair soon branched out into the bakery products they knew so well from their pastry chef days. 

But chocolate - which is now prepared in a kitchen close to their home in Chester and brought to Altrincham, while bakery products are made on site at Market House to ensure freshness - has always remained the common denominator.

“Chocolate is part of the repertoire of a pastry chef anyway, but we both really enjoyed working with chocolate so decided to specialise in it. 

“Then over time we've added the hot chocolate, milkshakes and ice creams, and after customer feedback, have now expanded to brownies, macarons and cookies.”

They’ve also increased the number of plant-based products over the years, while recipes continue to adapt in pursuit of the best flavours that Claire and Sam can produce.

Sam Joseph's hot chocolate - with handmade marshmallows

“We do a lot of our own product development,” said Claire. “We’re always adapting recipes, although there are some, like the brownie, that we’ve used since day one.”

Other influences have something of a story attached to them. After Sam proposed to Claire in the kitchen garden of Raymond Blanc’s famous Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons restaurant in Oxfordshire, they enjoyed a dessert featuring a sumptuous blend of milk chocolate, banana and Earl Grey.

Inspired by the flavour, they returned home and sought to recreate it - and the banana and Earl Grey chocolate was duly born, and it remains on the menu to this day.

Sticky toffee pudding remains a favourite at Sam Joseph

Rising prices - the price of cocoa recently reached a record high, double what it was a year ago - have presented some challenges, as have attempting to juggle the two kids who have arrived during their time at Market House.

But they are hopeful for the future.

“Getting in Market House has been a massive part of the journey,” said Sam. “Here’s to the next 10 years!”

Sam Joseph Chocolates, Market House, Altrincham. Visit or follow @samjosephchocs on Instagram and Facebook.

Photography: Claire Harrison