TWENTY YEARS AGO, CLAYTON AND MARY BENNETT PACKED UP THEIR LIFE IN DUBLIN AND THEIR THREE YOUNG CHILDREN (AGED JUST NINE, SEVEN AND FIVE YEARS OLD) TO FOLLOW A DREAM TO SET UP A CHOCOLATE FACTORY ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORD, IN THE SLEEPY HOLIDAY BEACHSIDE TOWNSHIP OF MANGAWHAI.
Today their kids are all grown up and are taking over the reins of this family-run chocolate factory to continue their parents’ dream.
“My Mum was a nurse in Dublin and Dad was a Kiwi boy from Ruawai. They met and were living in Ireland when they had us kids,” says Emily Bennett, the middle sibling. “As kids, we would travel from Ireland and spend our family holidays in Mangawhai because it was close to the area that dad grew up,” she says.
“Mum and Dad always had a vision to come back to set up a cottage industry, and they knew Mangawhai was the place to do it.”
So that’s exactly what they did. They settled on chocolate and before coming out to New Zealand, they did their groundwork, learning how to make chocolates at the world-renowned Callebaut Academy in Belgium.
They shipped the whole family back to Mangawhai and set up shop, taking inspiration from their new, quintessentially Kiwi, beachside home. The pipi shell chocolates from Bennetts have become an iconic feature of the range and they were the first chocolatiers in New Zealand to create feijoa-inspired chocolates. They also took salt from the Mangawhai harbour and harvested it in the factory to create the current best seller, Mangawhai Seasalt chocolate. Clayton and Mary did all the chocolate making themselves in the early days, out the back of their home, in a garage converted into a chocolate factory.
Ten years later, the Bennetts outgrew their garage, and began the project of creating a new factory in a French Provence-inspired oasis in the heart of Mangawhai village. The project was Mary’s vision. “Most architects at the time thought Mum was a bit crazy to build in this style in Mangawhai.” It has become a destination for the local community, the holiday crowds in summer and, for travellers heading north, it’s a must-see tourist stop.
All of this was going on while the couple were raising their young family. You could assume the kids were destined to take on the family business. But their parents never put that pressure on them; they were encouraged to explore the globe and make their own path. So, Emily set off to Italy to learn how to make shoes, Harry travelled the world working in hospitality and Brodie worked his way cheffing around the world. Eventually, all in their own time, they arrived home and now they’ve found their way back to the business to take on the next chapter in the Bennetts of Mangawhai story.
Emily is the general manager of the chocolate factory, Harry has taken the role of head of the café and Brodie delivers a menu of seasonal deliciousness as head chef. Remi Le Levier, chief chocolatier, has been with Bennetts since 2002 as a young 20-year-old recruit from his native Paris. The team is complete with helping hands from 40 local workers.
“Our parents instilled in us that business is not all about making money but doing something worthwhile with your life,” Emily says. “We have created a destination that people can come to and enjoy, [it’s] something our family will always be proud of.”
Farro has been selling the Bennetts’ chocolates since we opened our second store in Constellation Drive in 2010, and we’re delighted to still be bringing this family-first handmade range of exceptional chocolates to you.