Over 2000 years on from when the Romans established a fort on the site of Cirencester, Tony Phillips opened up a chocolate shop.

Chocolate and Candy was opened just four months ago and sits in the centre of this historic and picturesque town, known as the ’capital of The Cotswolds’.

At the end of October, the shop was refurbished in preparation for the anticipated rush of Christmas shoppers.

"We saw an opportunity for opening a shop in the centre of this very touristy town. If it is successful - and we won’t know for about a year - we will think about opening others. We hope that Christmas-time will bring in many customers," says Phillips.

Phillips has a long and colourful entrepreneurial past, from a ’Sunday strip club’ to owning a chain of bakery shops.

"I started my businesses up from £97.76 in the form of an expense cheque from a finance company, where I worked. I went to put it in the bank but came out with an overdraft of £750," he says.

"I opened my first fabric shop, which turned into a chain but, after a while, I sold these off one by one and opened a little sandwich bar. This grew into Janes Pantry.

"When the bakery business was being established, I also had a travel agency and a bar and restaurant, where, one day, the manager decided to hire strippers.

"Of course, the press loved that one, as the headlines read: ’Tory Counsellor Runs Sunday Strip Club’. At the time, I remember Maggie Thatcher said to our MP, Sally Oppenheim-Barnes: ’What’s that dreadful man Tony Phillips doing down in Gloucester?’"

British Baker columnist, Tony Phillips, now owns the Janes Pantry chain of nine bakeries, a factory and four bakery vans, operating within the Gloucester area.

The reason why Phillips has branched out into the chocolate world is because he has been a member of Retail Confectioners International (RCI) for 11 years.

Next year, he will become the first non-American president of the trade association, founded in Chicago in 1917.

It serves a broad range of confectioners and industry suppliers - from small, family-owned businesses with one store to large multi-million-dollar corporations.

He says: "Being offered presidency was a huge privilege. RCI provides a forum for confectioners to meet, network, share ideas, solve mutual problems, and develop their candy-making and entrepreneurial skills.

They share every idea they’ve got. I can send an email to a member to ask what their best-selling line is and they will have replied and sent the recipe within 24 hours."

In the confectionery shop, Phillips is particularly excited about his new range of personalised chocolate bars.

Five thousand of these were sold within the first two weeks of the launch. Any company or individual can order a personalised message or logo to be put on the label of the bars.

Phillips also sells them in his bakeries, with the messages ’I love you’, ’Congratulations’, ’Happy Birthday’, and ’Thank you’.

All the chocolate in the shop comes from Belgium and is handmade at the back of one of his Janes Pantry bakeries.

Products made here include sugar mice, chocolate Santas, Robbie reindeers, snowmen skaters, jellies, Champagne truffles, dark chocolate Armagnac truffles and novelty golf, hairdressers and baby milk chocolate sets.

Some of the messages printed inside the Candy and Chocolate’s Christmas collection leaflet include: ’The need for chocolate is an addiction that no one wants to cure’; ’The world hasn’t ended yet’; and ’If your friends are worried about eating too much chocolate, eat theirs’.

Right-hand man, Neville Morse, who is managing Phillips’ business empire, from the Janes Pantry chain to Chocolate and Candy, says: "I have worked with Tony for 24 years. I started with him as a trainee baker at the age of 17.

"He has many long-serving members of staff. I work 10-12 hours a day, six days a week and occasionally seven. Tony has sent me on chocolate-making training courses in America, Canada and on the Continent. I was even sent on a short ’hands-on’ university course."

Phillips says in response: "People get me wrong. I don’t object to the correct type of training, but bakery and confectionery need a ’hands-on’ approach and on-the-job learning.

"The more people make the products, the more they learn. I think that some courses these days waste valuable time."

The factory delivers primarily to Janes Pantry bakery shops. It makes 5,000 sausage rolls and 2,000 pasties an hour.

The vegetables used are all sourced locally and the finished goods are free from preservatives. "We are very old-fashioned in the sense that we do everything ourselves - from peeling the potatoes to making price ticket labels," says Phillips.

"We are slightly higher-priced than our competitors because we strive for quality. I would rather people say to me, ’You are a bit expensive but you’re the best’. That’s better than ’You’re cheap’, because to me, cheap and nasty are two words that go together."

In addition to the nine shops, there are four Janes Pantry bakery vans, which sell food within Gloucester city, including sausage rolls, sandwiches, pasties, pizzas, jacket potatoes, cakes, crisps and drinks.

They visit office blocks and car parks, providing lunch to workers. Phillips says the vans have been very successful and he started running the fourth last month.

Janes Pantry itself grew from a sandwich shop that Phillips hired. "My wife Barbara, made the sandwiches, which took her about two hours a day. Of course being a kind, benevolent husband, I asked her what she was going to do with the rest of the day.

"So I bought her a £10 gas stove. She started to make fruit pies and a few odd cakes in this little oven. When this grew, we opened a small bakery. Over time, it grew bigger and I rented people’s basements. When Neville arrived, he worked harder and harder, so I worked less and less," says Phillips.

"It’s been a lot of hard work but we’ve had a lot of laughs along the way. Because I have so little talent, I have always worked on the theory that I need to hire people that are better than me to do the work. I was born to delegate." n


=== About Tony Phillips and his businesses ===

Tony Phillips - owner of Janes Pantry and Chocolate and Candy bakery and confectionery retail outlets. He will become the first non-American president to be elected by Retail Confectioners International and is also a regular columnist for British Baker

Chocolate and Candy - opened four months ago in Tony Phillips’ home town of Cirencester

Janes Pantry - comprises nine bakery shops in the Gloucester area, including Hucclecote, Tuffely, Churchdown, Brockworth and Matson. The Janes Pantry bakery is on Corolin Road, Lower Tuffely Lane, Gloucester.

Four bakery vans deliver a selection of bakery products within the Gloucester area. Three other vans deliver buffets daily to corporate customers and three more distribute to his nine shops