THEY say it is hard to mix business with pleasure, but one North-East entrepreneur has added a touch of sweetness to the world of work.

Natalie Collins has launched Chunk Chocolates – which she describes as her own chocolate adventure.

She learnt her trade at market stalls and events across the region, but has now taken the next step and launched her very own shop in Stokesley, North Yorkshire.

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“I am a creative person and I listen to my customers – I’ve learned what people like and don’t like and crucially what they are prepared to pay.

“People can see my enthusiasm. I love selling and interacting with people – I love people and different personalities.

Natalie was trained in broadcast media but soon realised it wasn’t the career for her, and it was during her time working in a shop that her entrepreneurial dreams began.

“I worked in a variety of retail settings - a candle shop, a florist, even the Body Shop at home so I could fit it between my children.

“I loved it so much that I realised I wanted one of my own, and I found myself saying this would make a great chocolate shop.

So Natalie went on a number of chocolate making courses in order to realise her dream.

“I did everything from tempering to making sculptures and unique truffles – I loved every second of it.

Natalie’s creative ways resulted in chocolate being the best option for her business.

“It is a really versatile material. I don’t see it as a food, ultimately it is like a play dough, you can do so many things with it, whether it be mould it, flavour it or colour it.

“The world is your oyster when it comes to chocolate.

“I would get ideas in the night. I would wake up and sit bolt upright in the dark and write them down, then the next morning I wouldn’t be able to read them.

Natalie says a typical batch of 10 kilograms of chocolate would take her around four hours to make.

“You need to make sure the ingredients are right – sometimes different spices are not as potent as the last ones you used, so I am always tasting to see if it is right.

“Once it is crystallised in the fridge – you then have to break it, weight it and bag it.”

She hopes to get her children working in the shop one day, and also has plans to bring in some outside help.

“They always get the broken bits” she says.

“I will employ an apprentice further down the line in either retail or catering, but it needs to be the right person.”

Natalie has funded the shop herself and is grateful for the support she has received, but remains level headed about its long term future.

“I didn’t want to put my family at risk” she said.

“They have been very supportive - I couldn’t have done all this on my own.

“My mum has done around 100 shopping trips, my brother has been up from Stevenage and I’ve had my husband do all the painting.

“My dream is to have a successful shop. If I open another one, that would be great, but it is not on the cards.

“I want to have a strong presence in Stokesley. I’d love people from Yarm or Ingelby Barwick especially to see my shop.”

Natalie tells anyone with similar dreams to her to “take a leap of faith and go for it.”

“It is a risk, but if you know it is a calculated risk then the odds are in your favour – you’ll never know unless you try.

“I am prepared for this to fail, but at least I can say I gave it a go.”

Natalie is prepared for a busy time in the run up to Christmas, but also has plans to keep customers returning throughout the year.

“We are going to have 20 per cent off everything in the shop in January, and we will have seasonal themes throughout the year, whether it be Valentine’s Day, Easter, or even national chocolate week.

“Salted Toffee Popcorn is currently the most popular flavour. It is the perfect bar – crunchy, chewy, sweet and salty.

“Then there is the usual Gingerbread at Christmas, Eton Mess in the summer, and Pumpkin Pie Spice for the autumn.

“I use my imagination as much as possible” she added.

In her first 48 hours of opening, customers were already flooding in to praise Natalie’s new venture.

“It has been fantastic – I am bewildered by the response.

“People say it is nice to see something different. We don’t do coffee or cakes, it is all about the chocolate.”

With Christmas just weeks away, Natalie is set for a rollercoaster chocolate adventure, and the foundations are in place for it to be a long and successful ride.

Five minutes with Natalie Collins…..

Favourite North-East building and why?

St Mary's Lighthouse, Whitley Bay.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid?

I worked for Granada Studios as a back stage tour guide, it was so long ago I can't remember how much I got paid – a pittance most likely.

What is the worst job you've had?

Work experience in a hotel 'a la carte' kitchen. I had to scoop a perfect ball of sorbet into a champagne glass while sitting inside the walk in fridge, and there were 10 crates of glasses to fill.

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner?

A Thai green curry from Jamie Oliver's cookbooks - I love cooking.

What would your superpower be?

To be super-fast and get everything I need to do in a week done in five minutes.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party. Michel Bauble, Nigella Lawson, Ella Fitzgerald, and Al Pacino Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much?

I don't buy expensive things - I am proud of the fact I love finding hidden gems and vintage items at charity shops and vintage fairs.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why?

Twitter is not my thing, but if I did, Jamie Oliver as there's always a new recipe I want to try.

Favourite book?

I don't have a specific one, but I enjoy a good 'who done it?' The Girl on the Train was the most recent.

When did you last cry?

This morning, I cry at everything.

What is your greatest achievement?

Marrying my husband and having my children. (I'm crying again) What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given?

Learn your trade well before you venture on to do anything else.

Favourite animal and why?

Sloth - they reflect my inner laziness.

Most famous person on your mobile phone?

My mother - everyone round here knows her and she only moved to Stokesley in April this year.

What was the last band you saw live?

Wet Wet Wet...say no more.

Describe your perfect night in.

Lovely dinner made by my husband (he's a great cook), glass of wine, then curled up on the sofa with the kids watching a Marvel movie.

In another life I would be... ?

A cat Who would play you in a film of your life?

Barbra Streisand What irritates you? Sales calls What's your secret talent?

Ice skating.