Trader Profile-Dark Matters

Need chocolate? Look no further! This month we caught up with purveyor of plant-based deliciousness, Gemma Lewis, the genius behind Dark Matters Brownies. It was great to learn more about Gemma’s journey and how she and Dark Matters have grown during the 6 years she has been trading with us.

Hi Gemma! Tell us a bit about you and your business.

I started trading as Dark Matters in Spring 2013 when I was looking for a way to supplement my minimum wage job in Bournemouth. I had run another small artisan food business when I lived in South London and loved the freedom and challenges that came with working for myself, so was keen to see if I could make it work elsewhere with a new business. Delighted to still be here after 6 years and a change of location, but it hasn’t been stress free! 
We started simply as an artisan chocolate brownie business with a focus on dark chocolate (hence the name), which was unusual at the time, but as the brownie market grew (and I became vegan myself for a number of reasons) I saw that there was definitely a gap in the market for us to convert the business to being vegan also. This was in late 2015 and its one of the best things we’ve done business-wise. I worked incredibly hard to tailor our existing recipe for the vegan market, taking out the butter and eggs and replacing them with high quality vegan alternatives. We’re also a palm oil free business, so don’t use any margarines or vegan spreads as people might assume. The real secret is we’ve actually increased the amount of dark chocolate couverture that goes in every batch, so our customers are getting even more of a chocolate hit per bite! For this reason we believe that our brownies are definitely not just for vegans (I would say our customer base is probably 50/50) and think the only real requirement is that you really love chocolate!
Where do you get your inspiration – what motivates you to do what you do? 

I find being in a community of likeminded business owners is the best way to feel continually inspired and motivated to keep going, even in the toughest of times. The camaraderie and support, both in person at markets and on social media, is honestly one of the main reasons I’m still trading, and being able to reach out to people who are experiencing similar things and ask for advice or feedback is absolutely priceless. We’ve also built up a pretty awesome rock solid customer base in the last few years, many of whom I would now consider friends (even if they only want me for my brownies!), so having that is incredibly motivating to keep baking!

Why did you choose to come and trade at the Frome Independent?Another stallholder mentioned the Frome Independent Market at another similar event as they’d just traded the week before and thought it would be right up our street. I think it had been running a few months by that point and all the feedback I’d heard from people was incredible, so we applied and were lucky to get on to the market the following month, in October 2013,  and we’ve only missed one since then! Followers to our social media are well aware that Frome Indie is my absolute favourite day of the month, we genuinely count down the days to it! The whole event is so much fun and such a wonderful, happy environment that it doesn’t feel like work! The hardest part is not spending all my money at the other stalls….

What do you like about market trading  – why not just sell online or through retail outlets?

As I said before, the market environment and chatting with other traders and customers face to face is what I love most about having a small business. We do sell online, but mainly just to serve customers who we may not be seeing at markets for a while, or who want to send brownies to friends across the country. We also have a handful of really ace wholesale stockists who are all independent business owners too, who we just couldn’t be without, but theres something about the buzz of market trading that really gets under your skin and find I really miss it in the quieter, off-season months (as lovely as a lie-in at the weekend can be!)

Tell us about your own favourite or best-selling product. How much work goes into creating it, why do you think this is your strongest product?
Our best seller is still, even after 6 years, our OG Salted Caramel brownie, affectionately named the Salty Dog, which was the first brownie we ever baked and still the one we bring most of to each market! Personally I’m still in love with our new Raspberry Dark Choc brownie, which is definitely creeping up there to be a best seller,  or the Maple Hazlenut Pecan which looks as fit as it tastes – both of which are also sneakily Gluten and Wheat Free too, not that you’d know it from taste! 
Because the main ingredient is 70% dark chocolate, we tend to focus on ingredients and flavours that compliment and can hold their own against such a rich base, and I feel the selection we have on offer at our market stalls is a great example of this.

What is your favourite Frome shop, or stall to visit at The Frome Independent?
My favourite shop in Frome is, without a doubt, Deadly Is The Female on Catherine St, who not only sell the most incredible clothing but have the loveliest staff in the universe. I could spend an awful lot of time and money in here given half the chance…

Also Raves From The Grave on Cheap Street is one of the best music shops in the South West and is great if I have time to browse. Its a great talking point as a lot of our customers shop there every month and I love being nosey to see what music they’ve bought!

Favourite Stall at Frome Indie is a hard one as there really are too many to choose from! Dakota Rae Dust is usually opposite our stall and the bright colours usually distract me at some point, the woman is so talented! Shaun (the Bearded Wonder of the business) has been almost exclusively wearing Wolfe Academy clothing for a few years now so we always stop by to see them and have a nose at new designs. I wear head scarves most days because my big hair gets in the way, and Sows Ear have an incredible array of designs using a vintage pattern made from upcycled fabric. 
Food & Drink: Dosa Tom, Jacobs Falafel and Kinori Japanese all hit the spot for lunch, Hanora Health for amazing natural soft drinks and Marshwood Vale Cider/Milk Street Brewery for the harder stuff!

And finally, some quick fire questions….
Favourite book?

I’m a total Stephen King fanatic so pretty much anything by him (even the rubbish stuff!) but The Shining and his short story collections are the books I revisit the most. 

Describe your dream day off.
We have a caravan in West Wales thats been in my family for decades, so probably holed up there with lots of tea or a bottle of red wine reading or listening to BBC Wales (I’m 33 going on 66) and going for a huge hike if the weather is kind. Either that or stuck in a muddy field at a metal festival with all my best friends!

What are you listening to right now?
Podcasts keep me sane during the long hours of baking each week, the weirder the better, so No Sleep Podcast, Casefile, All Killa No Filla, Last Podcast on The Left and The Magnus Archives are my go-to. We’re having a rare weekend off soon to go to Download Festival, so that Spotify playlist and bands like Amon Amarth, Graveyard and Tool have been getting a heavy rotation in the kitchen too.

What are you eating at the moment?
Usually whatever we’ve bought from the weekend before’s markets, so this week its lots and lots of Moist hummus and asparagus! 

And with that, we’ll leave Gemma to her asparagus! But you can find Dark Matters in the centre of Market Place, opposite the Market Place stage on 7th July, or check out their range online here. Follow @eatdarkmatters on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.