Sweet jobs on offer at Durness chocolatiers – Northern Times

It seems like the ultimate dream job – with a taste of the sweet life.

Ten jobs with accommodation are up for grabs at Cocoa Mountain at Durness – the most north westerly village on mainland UK.

The establishment has had to shut due to problems attracting staff to the remote location – compounded by Brexit.

James Findlay with some Cocoa Mountain chocolate eggs.
James Findlay with some Cocoa Mountain chocolate eggs.

Entrepreneurs Paul Maden and James Findlay set up Cocoa Mountain some 16 years ago after buying an old sergeant’s mess in part of a former RAF Cold War camp which had not been occupied for 12 years.

The two Scottish university graduates spent 18 months or so renovating the property before receiving a grant from the former Caithness and Sutherland Enterprise to launch the business.

Mr Maden experimented with around 100 truffles recipes before settling on the company’s current range of 30.

The pair featured on television show Dragon’s Den in 2015, but did not manage to secure the £80,000 investment for a 15 percent stake with the dragons describing Durness as a “diabolical” place to do business and where “hippies” dropped out.

However after Mr Findlay and Mr Maden appeared on the show, they were approached by more than 80 potential investors.

“It got to the stage where I interviewed them one by one,” said Mr Maden. “In the end we decided to do things ourselves – none of the investors were going to share our passion for the product or add value to it.”

And the dragons had to eat their words after Cocoa Mountain’s turnover neared the £1million mark.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has been a setback, although the Mr Findlay and Mr Maden have continued to work to fulfil online sales of truffles with orders from America, Canada, Australia, Dubai, Luxembourg and even from Switzerland, the home of chocolate.

Demand is also steady for their hot chocolate drink and the entrepreneurs have an outlet in Dornoch in Sutherland and a factory in Perth.

After opening at Durness in April for the 2022 season, the three staff were overwhelmed by the demand from the busy NC500.

“We had to shut in May we just did not have enough staff to cope,” said Mr Maden.

“We are really gutted but we need ten people to fully open. We potentially could open with three people in July, but that would be just selling chocolate bars etc – no drinks or food. Brexit has caused recruitment difficulties without doubt and it is remote here. There is not a sufficient local pool of staff.”

Durness, on the popular North Coast 500 route (NC500), is home to just 350 people – so staff have to invariably be sourced from afar.

Mr Findlay added that they pay £12.50 an hour and offer “good accommodation” – staff pay £50-a-week towards broadband, council tax and running costs.

And he said: “We expect our staff to taste the chocolate – they have to know the products. It is a dream job in a dream location. It is fast paced environment, but would appeal to students and those on a gap year.”

Meanwhile Brexit is said to have contributed to a continuing serious shortage of hospitality workers in Scotland, with up to 48,000 posts still not filled.

UK Hospitality Scotland has said that more than eight out of 10 businesses – 84 per cent – have reported vacancies in front-of-house roles such as bar, reception and waiting staff.

Just over two-thirds had vacancies for chefs, while around a third reported shortages of kitchen porters, assistant managers and housekeepers.

In written evidence to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee previously, the trade association said vacancy rates in the sector are at least 10 per cent and could be as high as 16 per cent, equating to between 30,000 – 48,000 vacancies.

The level of vacancies has forced some hotels in the Highlands to close early and there have been warnings that next summer could be worse if the effects of Brexit are not mitigated.

James Findlay and Paul Maden of Cocoa Mountain.
James Findlay and Paul Maden of Cocoa Mountain.

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