We speak with our very own female Willy Wonka, Nicole Dunphy. She tells us how Pandora Bell began and how her award winning luxury brand was a realistic labour of love.

I’m no business woman, but I’ve always believed if started one I’d go in with guns blazing, give more than I was actually capable of providing for the sake of being a people pleaser, and I’d probably burn out or run myself into debt because of unrealistic expectations. Nicole Dunphy’s had an entirely different approach to her business and it’s paid off.

Nicole’s journey is quite the story. She started out in Trinity as an English and History student, where after she worked in media. “I always had a hankering to run my own business. My Granny had a shop in Cork, and I started a few club nights and entertainment gigs in Limerick.” However, itchy feet got the better of her and Nicole took a career break to indulge in her passions. She began training with one of France’s best chocolate makers. She then travelled to Italy and tried her hand at the art of making gelato. As Nicole developed her skills in confectionary Pandora Bell was born. Pandora, a charming fictional girl, left Limerick in the 1930’s to travel and work with Europe’s top chocolatiers. Though Nicole’s brand name is fictionally inspired, there’s no denying that there’s a part of her personal experience in Pandora.

The ethos behind Pandora Bell was the real driving force for Nicole. She had no idea that the business would become a luxury brand. Her products come from “simple recipes that are not packed with sugar, colours or additives.” What’s wonderful is Nicole’s desire to become sustainable and vegan-friendly. However, she told us that such a quest isn’t something you can expect to happen overnight. “You have to go a step at a time. Going with the flow is important and to take it as it comes.”

Nicole’s approach is steadily paying off, and patience has been key to achieving sustainable goals. Before Pandora Bell contained sustainably sourced palm oil, and now it’s been removed completely. “If it can be replaced with something else, then why use it?” Nicole says. The products use olive oil instead – a far healthier and safer option for the planet. The Pandora Bell lollies have had carmine extract removed and the nougat range uses free-range eggs. “I’m slowly making every effort for the brand to be better.”

The idea of approaching a business slowly is heartening, especially in what has become a fast paced culture that demands instant gratification. Pandora Bell was initially geared only towards the Irish market and then the opportunity to branch out arose. “Bord Bia helped us to get our company out there. It was an easy extension with the internet too.” With any business, Nicole suggests that businesses need to have simple beginnings. “If you start big you can run out of money pretty quickly.” And one great piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs is to maintain a constant and reliable supply of products. “You have to be clear on what you can do and how long it’ll take to do it. If your supply runs low and you can’t provide you’ll have very angry retailers.”  

It’s refreshing to hear that the food business isn’t a cut-throat type of industry or at least not in the circles Nicole moves in. Something that many businesses can learn from is by seeking advice and sharing it with your business community a person can develop their knowledge and instil a sense of comradery. Nicole says that she loves meeting others in the food industry. “Other businesses are only too willing to help. We can all afford to share our experiences. There’s a really lovely community there to dip into.”

Real Eggshell Covered Chocolate Praline  Real Eggshell Covered Chocolate Praline

And Nicole’s advice shouldn’t be taken lightly. Her work ethics and the community she engages with have meant that Pandora Bell has gone from a home-grown brand to being an internationally recognised luxury brand. Pandora Bell’s lollipops were requested by Dolce and Gabanna for a fashion show, appeared in a Grazia photo shoot and decorated the D&G London Boutique with sweet aplomb. Pandora not only caught D&G’s attention, Vivienne Westwood was keen to spread her love for hard candy and requested that a batch of ‘Sunny Alice’ lollies be sent around to the media as part of a fashion campaign.  

There’s a lot to be said for taking it slow and steady. And like Nicole’s approach to her business, she’s excited by the gradual trickle of natural food brands in Ireland. As well as that there’s a shift in Ireland’s cuisine. As a country with so much fresh produce on our doorstep, we’ve only recently begun to see chefs becoming innovative and crafting unique food movements around the country. It’s safe to say that Pandora Bell is just one extraordinary example of Ireland’s changing food culture. If Irish brands all carry the same ethos as Nicole has throughout her business venture, we’re on the way to becoming stellar food contenders on an international scale

You can find Pandora Bell online, Fallon and Byrne, Brown Thomas, Avoca and independent retailers. 

Photos courtesy of Nicole Dunphy

Words by Jenna Meade