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One of Oban’s busiest hospitality establishments is all set for change.
The Oban Chocolate Company will move away from being a sit-in café and focus instead on its handmade chocolates.
Established in 2003, the business has steadily grown over the years to become a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, but owners Helen and Stewart MacKechnie have decided that now is the time for a slight change of direction.
The couple, who have two young children, explained: ‘We’ve successfully built this business up over 18 years but the last 18 months have undoubtedly been the toughest we’ve ever experienced.
‘We managed to keep going through both lockdowns by selling chocolates online and since the latest reopening at the end of April, it has been incredibly busy in both the café and the shop.
We had 10 café employees on furlough at the start of that scheme but as furlough winds up at the end of this month, only three of those same staff will still be with us.
‘Good people have left our business for jobs outwith the uncertain hospitality industry whilst others have naturally gone on to further education opportunities.
‘More than four months of searching for new café staff has resulted in only one addition to our team.
‘We had already reduced our opening hours by half in July and August to allow for days off and staff shortages but, if anything, that only led to increased demand on those days we were still open.’
The couple have now decided that the best way forward is to focus on producing their unique chocolates for retail in their shop, as well as growing their online customer base by investing in new equipment for the chocolate factory.
The café will move to takeaway only for coffees, hot chocolates and chocolatey treats.
Helen explained: ‘The team that have seen us right through the pandemic have been incredible.
‘They have worked exceptionally hard in very trying, restrictive conditions and we are so proud of them.
‘Whilst this has been a particularly difficult decision to make, there is an acknowledgment that tweaking things is the only sustainable option for the foreseeable future.
‘We feel we’re leaving the café on a high note, without having to compromise on the quality and service that it has become known for over the years.’