and how The M'hencha Company a small but perfectly formed Artisan Home Bakery in The Cotswolds came to be:
Hello and welcome, my name is Sophie, founder and master M'hencha Maker!
My story is a rather familiar one of work hard, play hard, try to have it all and as a reward find the brakes firmly put on. In my case it was not my mind but my body, in the shape of a chronic autoimmune condition called systemic lupus that called the halt. In a nut shell the autoimmune systems code goes haywire and instead of protecting it starts to attack the good as well as the bad and the ugly. It's not contagious and for me my symptoms are internalised so you wouldn't even know to look at me unless you see me in the middle of a flare.
As things reached a difficult stage and a particularly bad flare it was clear something had to change. Looking back now I know it was the fear of the unknown, the comfort of stability that made me cling onto a career that had served its purpose. I exited corporate world with a lot of anxiety about what the future would hold and if changing lifestyle would help me stabilise my lupus. That said there had to be a better way to manage my condition, earn a living where I wasn't damaging myself in the process and feeling that I was doing something worthwhile that people would appreciate.
I thought baking cake to order would be a grand plan, pleasure to do, creative, local, start small = less pressured and in my naivety totally unsustainable! My background in sales and marketing somehow vaporised initially but as they say you have to try a few things before things settle into place. Business head back on I needed something unique, that no one else was focussing on, something that would mail order if needed. something really really special that I could feel proud of.
Cue M'hencha. Baking my way through sweet sections of international cookbooks I fell upon M'hencha heady and fragrant, in fact too fragrant, too sweet, too much syrup but there was something that I found addictive. So I looked for M'hencha everywhere, tried every recipe I could find then adjusted and refined to my palate and a taste journey was born.
My final interpretation of this Moroccan delight met with such an extraordinary response at a Christmas Market that I felt I had to see if I could get a Food Industry seal of approval and submitted M'hencha Citrus, Rosewater & Pistachio to the Great Taste Awards. I was utterly overwhelmed to receive 3* and have have my M'hencha named as one of the Top 50 Foods in Britain & Ireland 2012. This catapulted M'hencha into the limelight and The M'hencha Company was born.
The next 3 years were a learning curve, slowly realising that Rosewater can be an acquired taste, that all palates are different. Some people can only taste lemon, some orange, some rosewater and the lucky ones - often coffee drinkers for some reason enjoy the full taste journey, frangipane, citrus notes, pistachio, with a lingering hint of rose. I also realised this meant I was excluding a big chunk of people and that I needed a new flavour so they could enjoy M'hencha too. At this point I was fortunate to meet a wonderfully vocal Algerian gentleman at a tasting event in Fortnum and Mason who told me his Mother made a much better version of M'hencha thank I did! I welcomed his critique and invited him to tell me all about "his" m'hencha, he was literally transported and I found myself savouring the flavours, their traditions and once home I started playing with spice, dried fruit and citrus.
In 2015 the Orange, Cinnamon and Date M'hencha was launched. It would turn out to be the alter ego to the adventurous, fragrant, fresh notes of the Citrus Rosewater & Pistachio. It's more robust, punchy, spicy and comforting and turns out to be a firm favourite with tea drinkers. So off I go again M'hencha in hand to the Guild of Fine Foods Now I for one prefer the Citrus, Rosewater and Pistachio just because its so different so was absolutely blown away when the Orange, Cinnamon and Date was awarded 3*, Top 50 status AND was the Golden Fork for the South West (Food Industry Oscar.)
2016 was another special year when I was awarded the Great Taste VIP award sponsored by Woman and Home Magazine. The Award is given in recognition of smaller producers who will go that extra mile to create something special.
Its 2018 and I'm still here, my lupus is mostly under control (as far as these things can be) and I remain passionate about what I am creating. I am keeping the business small and specialist, personally crafting every M'hencha that leaves the kitchen to order, I'm a control freak and the making has to be done with pride and passion. I haven't made this journey entirely alone so whilst the team below is fluid they have made a significant contribution and are deserving of a public thank you and a recommendation.
What's next? There's a long way to go on the M'hencha front, I'd guestimate probably 99% of people still haven't heard of M'hencha, tasted it or even know what is....so I think its going to take me a while to spread the love of M'hencha. If you're already a fan, thank you for your appreciation hopefully you're a subscriber and are enjoy your quarterly offer and if you're not its time to take the plunge....and just to chivvy you along enter NEW18 at the checkout for an introductory 10% off. shop now then enjoy!
SOPHIE BROWNE (Founder & M'hencha obsessive) All M'hencha Baking, Product Development, Admin, Packing, Despatch, Business Development, Website Design, Events Co-ordinator, Product Demonstrator, Event & Market Trader....
Juggles business with motherhood, wifedom and keeping an eye on the vibrant well worn parents.
Eats M'hencha: cake style, citrus, rosewater and pistachio, straight from the oven, torn from the coil, dabbed in pistachio gelato.
PHILIP BROWNE (FD numbers man) Official taster, keeps an eye on the M'hencha £ and Event Support.
Juggles M'hencha commitments around his Full time role in life as a Group FD. Father to 3 young adults, step father to my teenage daughter who calls him the wise owl.
Eats M'hencha: Treat size Citrus, Rosewater & Pistachio, warm from the oven for breakfast, with coffee and a killer sudoku on the side.
Jenny Stewart takes my M'hencha images. She also photographs people, animals and food, along with having a significant commercial portfolio. She captures the magic of her subjects in a very intuative way and has been on board since pre M'hencha days.
She shares her life with husband James and border terrier Bill in the heart of the Cotswolds. Bill is a major inspiration along with the countryside surrounding her home all of which gets blipped on a regular basis.
Eats M’Hencha: any way it comes, however her current favourite is a generous chunk of warmed OCD with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice-cream
Natasha Willmore: is responsible for all my branding and is Creative Director at Culpepper & Company, specialising in branding, Corporate Identity, Sales & Marketing, Graphic Design including Brochure, Corporate Literature & Packaging, Book Design, online email marketing, video production, Website design and programming.
Self employed mum to Maisie, wife to Mark (also self-employed), works from home in a ‘Creative Shed' at the bottom of her Cotswold Garden and loves her border terrier dog Watson.
Eats Mhencha: Citrus, Rosewater and Pistachio served warm from the oven with a freshly made coffee. Shares it with clients and colleagues in the creative shed or in the garden when the weather allows. Celebrating with friends and family at special times in their lives (and saves a little morsel for herself … to indulge in when getting creative late at night!).
PamLloyd PR: takes care of getting M’hencha featured in the press. The team has also made it their personal mission to get everyone they meet to try M’hencha; they’ve seen the power of those little pastries! They know a great food product when they see it, and nothing makes them happier than seeing their clients in the media or creating a buzz on social.
PamLloyd PR is based in south west food capital, Bristol and the team of 7 dedicated food lovers spend their days thinking, talking, dreaming about food and drink.
Eat M’Hencha: sharing reluctantly between them a coiled citrus, pistachio and rosewater cake, it must be warm and served with good, strong coffee.