Five minutes with Jens Knoop
He probably has the best job in the world. Back in 2013, Jens Knoop opened his first chocolate drinks store in Rye, and he called it Knoops. The Knoops concept allows customers to choose a completely customised chocolate-based drink to suit their mood. The menu consists of a range of chocolate percentages as well as milks, botanicals and more. Since the primary store opened, Knoops has launched in over 13 UK locations. And there’s no sign of things slowing down…
We couldn’t wait to have a sit down with the chocolate man himself, and find out more about the fascinating Knoops concept. Jens tells us about his passion for all things chocolate (obviously), as well as his plans for more Knoops stores.
First thing’s first. How do you pronounce Knoops?! What does it mean?
Ku-noops. It’s based on my surname, Knoop, of course, and it’s a really popular surname in the north of Germany (I believe it comes from Dutch heritage) where I am from. It’s a really fun name to have: with the double O in the middle, which seems to be two eyes looking at you. There is also a funny connection to chocolate because “knoop” in Dutch means “button” and we are working with chocolate buttons so it was clearly meant to be!
What’s your very first memory of food?
Not unsurprisingly, this is confectionary related. I was a single spoilt child, I have to admit… so when I spent the summers with my grandmother and after I came into the house from being outside, she always treated me to a piece of chocolate. It was almost ceremonial. I would always be sitting in a big armchair and she would hand me a piece of chocolate (or sometimes two, if I had been exceptionally good) in a very specific plastic tray. It’s such a strong memory for me. I didn’t know I would go on to start a career in chocolate 45 years later!
How long ago did the first shop open?
In March 2013, we opened up in Rye, in a beautiful building overlooking the whole area of East Sussex. I fell in love with the building; it was exceptional but it was way too small with no heating. To be honest, it was totally unsuitable but it was right next to the Landgate, the ancient entry point into the village. It was such a beautiful building and I thought “This is the place!”.
What’s your favourite percentage of chocolate?
I get asked this a lot. It really depends on what my mood is. If I’ve been tasting chocolate already or if I perhaps need a little bit more sugar then it could be different each time. I would say my favourite milkshake is around 80% – it’s like a frozen chocolate mousse and who would say no to that?!
Do you prefer hot or cold chocolate?
I love to go crazy when it comes to hot chocolate and try different flavours. I like a 70% hot chocolate with added rosemary and sea salt. I know I’m alone there!
What do you like to do to relax?
Honestly? My job is not “work” to me, so it doesn’t feel like I have to separate time to relax. This is my life, this is my passion.
Otherwise, I do like to do things that are visual. Usually cinema or art; I actually came over to England to study photography. I love to keep on educating myself.
What’s the one dish you can’t live without?
Chocolate… just kidding! It would have to be pasta. It has a lot of tradition and heritage in there. It appeals to so many people and is available globally. It’s so versatile when it comes to ingredients. There’s nothing better than pasta handmade by an Italian, served with the right sauce.
What ingredient would you take to a desert island with you?
I assume I probably won’t make it off the island, so it would be a really good bottle of champagne (and some ice cubes, and some glasses!).
You can have a one-off dinner party on your island… who would you invite?
It would be a really good chef, for sure. Someone who would bring their own ingredients. Maybe a small band or entertainer as I would probably be very bored. And my partner, who could enjoy the dinner with me. I’d bring along the two cats too, because they’ll miss me.
What has been the most exciting experience of your Knoops journey?
It’s when someone doesn’t know what to order, and so I say to them “Forget the menu, let me suggest something for you.” And when they come back and say how much they enjoyed it, that’s the moment for me. There’s always a bit of pride, knowing I got it right for the customer. I love the bond between me and the customer and I love knowing we’ve made them the perfect drink.
What’s the story behind the way you source your chocolate?
Well, first of all comes flavour. I’m looking for how a chocolate tastes, whether it fits within the current menu, is it a different flavour to extend the gourmet experience? Then, I look at the sustainability story of the producer; what kind of credentials do they have? Do they have any certification?
Tell us some more about Knoops. What kind of experience can people come to expect?
When you come into the store, you’ll see a wall of numbers. It’s quite scientific. Maybe that’s my German heritage? A lot of people say it looks quite like a periodic system from chemistry.
I thought, if we are offering so many variations and choices, there has to be a system in place. This wall of numbers is our menu board and it displays up to 22 different percentages of chocolate and then there’s also a separate section for six cold chocolate drinks. You can add in different ingredients, swap your milks, and even add in coffee.
Describe Knoops in four words.
Expertly crafted chocolate drinks.
What’s the most popular item on the menu at present, and why do you think that is?
Milk chocolate, to be honest – around 43%. And it could be a hot one or a cold one. Very closely followed by mild dark chocolate. But honestly, it really varies depending on things like temperature. We’ve noticed the further north you travel, the more people like sweet chocolate!
What’s been the most challenging part of the journey?
Well, the most obvious answer would be Covid. We opened our first London store 3 weeks before the first lockdown… brilliant timing. We were all geared up and ready to go, and you could feel the anxiety level rising. Luckily, we improved the volume of our online orders for homemade chocolate. That was a big part for getting through Covid.
Do you have any aspirations and dreams you’ve yet to fulfil?
There is a huge ambition to expand internationally, because we see from our UK footfall that customers come from all over the world. Next year, the plan is to open 10 stores in the UK. But everybody in the world loves chocolate, so we could look to expand in Asia.
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