‘Sweet dreams are made of this’: Owner of chocolate shop opens in Royal Arcade

A 76-year-old former headteacher’s dream has finally come true after she opened her very own chocolate shop in Norwich’s Royal Arcade.

Chocolatier Angela Ruthven, who has been running Artisan Chocolates by Saffire since she retired in 2004, swapped her modest purpose-built premises in Taverham Garden Centre for a beautiful new shop in the city’s Victorian Arcade.

And the relocation marks a new name in chocolate in the Arcade – associated for decades with Digby’s after chocolate shop owner Digby Eddison. He opened his shop in the Arcade in 1993 and even though he sold the business and moved out in 2013 to run Harald’s chocolate shop in Cromer, his sign was never removed – until now.

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Mrs Ruthven said she could not secure a lease while Digby’s was in the Arcade and it has taken her until now, amid the coronavirus outbreak, to secure her spot and stamp her own mark on the city centre landmark.

Situated at the Gentleman’s Walk end of the Arcade, in the unit next door to the original Digby’s, Mrs Ruthven has been busy getting the shop ready for business. Rather than the dark wooden shelving of Digby’s, Artisan Chocolates by Saffire has white shelving units and a light wooden floor.

“I’ve been so busy, I haven’t stopped, there’s been so much work to do but I’m so excited, sweet dreams really are made of this, it’s always been my dream to be in the Royal Arcade which has a reputation for being the home of very good chocolate - there wasn’t a chocolate shop in here so we came in and are excited to grow,” she said.

The shop’s unique selling point is hand-made cholcolates produced on the premises. Customers can buy individual chocolates in tiny presentation boxes with small range of ready-made items including single origin chocolate bars, which contain higher cocoa content and less sugar, and chocolate coated Brazil nuts.

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Mrs Ruthven retired as a headteacher at the Hall School, Old Catton, and then retrained as a chocolatier as a hobby before going to Bruges and visiting 43 chocolate shops, buying chocolates in every single one to taste them.

“I had a big rucksack and I was just popping them in as I went from shop to shop,” she said.

She uses only natural ingredients and at Christmas can make as many as 6,000 chocolates a week. There are 30 different flavours to choose from – all unique to Saffire made from their own secret recipes.

And the shop really is a family affair – Angela’s daughter-in-law Sharlene joined Saffire about 10 years ago, while Angela’s son assists at busy times along with Kathrin, their daughter and Angela’s grand-daughter.

A change in fortune for Norwich’s Royal Arcade?

The high street may be facing a challenge but the opening of a chocolate shop in the Royal Arcade marks a welcome change in direction.

Only a year ago seven out of 15 units in what is one of the city’s top tourist attractions stood empty. Units once housing thriving businesses – and bustling life – were suddenly vacated. What were beautiful Victorian windows became a sad reflection of hard times, boarded up with plywood.

There seemed no end to the retail casualties, the biggest of all being Jamie’s Italian. When it closed down, it left a very big void to fill.

Then came the worry the Arcade may lose its longest-running tenant, toy shop Langley’s. It opened a new shop in Chapelfield prompting fears it too may decide to ditch the Arcade.

But there’s been a real change – probably as a result of coronavirus, with Arcade owners insurance giant Legal & General, listening to its tenants and agreeing to negotiate on rents. With retailers recently able to take advantage of business rate relief, and the decision to start dividing some of the larger units into more manageable sizes for smaller firms, the Arcade has been given a chance to thrive again.

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