Inspirational Woman: Oonagh Simms | Founder, The Marshmallowist

Oonagh Simms

After four years of working at the école Médéric in Paris, she endured four years of early mornings, black coffee, back ache, 30,000 croissants, 10,000 profiteroles and finally qualified as a fully trained Pâtissière & Chocolatier.

Ready to start a new adventure she returned to London to work as a chocolatier for a leading luxury confectioner before she realized that the French style of marshmallow was missing. She became ‘The Marshamallowist’, creating fruit Marshmallows in grown up flavours with a French, soufflé-like texture and a signature London edge.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m a Marshmallowist- I whip up gourmet marshmallows in unexpected flavours, from Blueberry and Gin to Pear and Elderflower. These are sold in premium retailers such as Harrods and John Lewis. I originally trained as a chocolatier and patisserie in Paris before moving back to UK and starting my business from a Portobello Road Market Stall.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Nope! Running my own company has all been a very happy accident. When I was working as a chocolatier I started experimenting after work with different flavour combinations in confectionery, using fresh fruits, herbs and spices. Some experiments were successful, some were less so. But after a while I had marshmallows that tasted incredible and a product that was unlike anything else. I started selling them at a Saturday market to make a little extra money. I now my own bakery, a team of staff- including my sister- a recipe book and a brand I couldn’t feel prouder of.

Why marshmallows?

In Paris, fruit marshmallows were a common sweet treat in patisseries and luxury food stores- but not in the U.K. I loved them and loved being inspired by cocktails or unusual desserts pairing herbs and spices with seasonal fruits. The marshmallow recipe I created is perfect for carrying flavours because it doesn’t use egg white and is soufflé like in texture so you can taste the different layers and notes of the flavour develop as you eat them.

Have you faced any particular challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

So many! Never having enough money to do what I need to do or hours of the day to do it! Cash flow is always an issue for us- our stockists have long payment terms but I have monthly outgoings for wages, kitchen rent and ingredients.  I have worked hard to find suppliers who recognise potential and can be flexible to allow growth but it’s always a challenge.

Having a start up can also be quite lonely- thankfully, I have been lucky enough to make friends with other small business owners at a similar stage and that can be really supportive. If you’ve got a problem they will nearly always have had the same problem.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

I want to see more of us. Currently I think we have to work a lot harder to be taken seriously-  I would say that age and gender have both been a challenge for me.  When we have visitors to the kitchen my kitchen supervisor, who is male, will always be assumed to be the boss- not me. I have worked hard to grow a business culture and workplace that I want to work in. There is nothing worse than growing a business that you’re passionate about but not being treated equally. I want to see more young women having the opportunity to run their own businesses, do things on their terms and challenging the perception of how businesses look and behave.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Mentoring is so important and I’m a huge advocate for it. I’m lucky that I have worked with some inspiring women on different projects and I have wonderful women who have supported me and helped me to grow different areas of my business. Liz Ward at Slick Pivot and Lucy Werner at The Wern are just two incredibly talented women who I rely on for direction, motivation and general knowing what’s what. I would love to mentor other start ups- most mistakes have been made before and it’s reassuring to hear that when you think you’re having a disaster.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to become an entrepreneur?

I’m not sure I think of myself as an entrepreneur. I couldn’t be happier being a chef, creating my own products and growing a company from the love of food and I think that comes through. I didn’t start this as an entrprenutreal project. It was always about the food. That’s the important part for me.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Securing the John Lewis contract. I had wanted to see my products in John Lewis for the last few years. The day I sat across the table from their buyer and was told that my marshmallows were the best they had ever tasted was one of the best days of my life.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I would love to make my brand an international one – currently we’re UK only and I would love to see us expand- to make us the world’s favourite marshmallows!

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