Nigel Rumsey grew up in a family that loved food and loved cooking.
His mother was a school dinner lady, his brother is a chef in America, his great grandfather cooked for royalty during the First World War, and so it is little wonder that Nigel also chose to follow a career path in the catering industry.
He trained as a chef patissier and worked at New College, Oxford, but over time his hobby of making chocolate began to take up so much time he eventually decided to take the plunge and open his own chocolaterie.
And so Rumseys of Wendover, and eventually Thame, was born, much to the delight of its regular and growing clientele.
The shops, on the High Street in both towns, are hugely popular and on Valentine’s Day, appropriately enough, the business celebrates its 10th anniversary.
Nigel said: “Being a pastry chef I dabbled in petit fours, and chocolate is part of that. One day a colleague at New College asked me to create a box of chocolates for his parents and so I made some extra ones for my family.
The feedback was immense, so I continued and started doing shows.”
At that stage Nigel made all the chocolate at his home on Hartwell Estate in Aylesbury where he still lives with his wife Mary, who does all the Rumseys administration. Nigel began supplying many of the Oxford colleges and Waddesdon Manor.
His employers at New College were very supportive and allowed him to cut his working week with them down to four days, and then to three, and then he realised he had to make the decision whether to make his hobby his fulltime career.
Mary, a former primary and special needs teacher, said: “We realised we couldn’t survive by selling only wholesale chocolate, we knew we would have to retail and find a shop to make a living to survive on.”
The premises they found was the former Nat West bank in Wendover High Street, complete with a vault in the basement, which they turned into a kitchen.
The old safe, once full of money, is now filled with the alcohol used in many of the chocolates.
The shop interior is styled with traditional dark wood fixtures and fittings. And a glass fronted ‘theatre’ on the ground floor enables customers to watch Nigel and his team at work.
Remembering that first day of trading Mary said: “We were excited and terrified.”
Their success is obvious.
The shops appeal to all age ranges and despite the recession, Mary says many people consider Rumseys to be “an affordable treat.”
She said: “We have never ever become complacent. It is really important to keep your customers happy and because we are independent we can give people what they want.”
In addition to the chocolate treats, Rumseys offer hot drinks, light lunches, soup, pate, sandwiches and of course plenty of delicious gateaux.
The success of the Wendover shop meant that after only three years the Rumseys felt able to take on a second shop in Thame.
In 2009 they also created the Cocoa Pod in Stone, moved all the production there and held parties, talks and team days, but after four and a half years they decided to pull out. The move had taken Nigel and Mary out of the shops and placed them at a distance, and it didn’t work.
Mary said: “When people come into Rumseys they expect to see Nigel and myself, especially here in Wendover, and the shops lost something when we were based in Stone.”
The hen parties and chocolate making workshops are still catered for and are now held at the Thame shop.
To celebrate the Rumseys anniversary customers can have two hot drinks and cake to share for £6 on February 14, 15 and 16.