Mary Bennett was a nurse in Dublin when she fell in love with Clayton, a Kiwi boy (and research chemist) from Ruawai. They’d bring their three kids back for holidays in Mangawhai and started dreaming of a new life in New Zealand with their own cottage industry.

The couple loved chocolate, so retrained as chocolatiers

After chocolate training in France and Belgium, in 1998 they moved the tribe from Dublin to start their boutique chocolate company, Bennetts of Mangawhai.

“Chocolate is a gift from the gods and full of gorgeousness.” – Mary Bennett

They didn’t want to make European-style chocolates so they started experimenting with local produce. The first time Mary tasted a feijoa she knew it had to go in chocolate. Soon, their groundbreaking local feijoa, kiwifruit, tamarillo and quince chocolates were getting noticed.

The kids came back to the business they all love like…well, family

Mary and Clayton didn’t ever pressure their kids Brodie, Emily and Harry to work in the business, so they took off all over the world – working as a chef in France, studying shoe design in Italy and teaching English in Chile. Eventually they all found their way back home to the business.

Each has different strengths and weaknesses and they keep working together, harmonious by each sticking to what they do best. It helps that they all share the same dreams for the future of the company and all know they need to be creative, innovative and adaptable in order to compete with the big guys.

“We have to understand what sets us apart from everyone else and be confident about being different from others.” – Mary Bennett

No matter how big they get, theirs will always be an artisan business

At Bennetts, everything is made and decorated by hand. That means they need plenty of hands and at Bennetts they currently have about 40 pairs. As a decent-sized employer, Mary feels they have a special relationship with the local families and they feel their responsibility strongly.

Mary always wanted to create a chocolate destination and had her heart set on a French Provence-inspired oasis in the heart of Mangawhai village.

“Most architects at the time thought Mum was a bit crazy to build in this style in Mangawhai.” – Emily Bennett

It wasn’t without it’s dramas. It took two years to build and upon completion the 2007 financial crisis struck. Times were tough for a while but these days the Bennetts complex has become a destination for locals, the holiday crowds in summer and for tourists heading north.

The Bennetts are great ocean-walkers and one of Mary’s dreams was to create their own Mangawhai sea salt caramel. She’d bring a bucket of water home from her walks and experiment with producing salt. They recently launched a Mangawhai Sea Salt Caramel box – the result of an incredible journey and a dream fulfilled.

They needed a partner who shared their vision

Mary and Clayton switched to Kiwibank when they weren’t getting the support they needed from their previous bank. Their Kiwibank Relationship Manager Clarc Morris is an experienced business mentor who has supported Emily, in particular, through many of the challenges of being a GM and running a business.

“Kiwibank is more than just a bank…they are a member of your team working alongside you, for you.” – Mary Bennett