The Marshmallowists are Oonagh Simms and Kim Smart who are tearing up the city with their gourmet offerings. The story of how they started goes back to October 2011 when Simms and Smart (as they affectionately call each other) met in a bar and a few drinks later hatched a plan to go into business together. Since then the pair have hit jackpot with their insanely delicious marshmallows, all handmade in Simms’ Shepherd's Bush kitchen. The gals combine expertise, a desire to please their customers and a fearless approach to using only the best ingredients, and sell their fantastic flavours on Portobello Road, outside The Portobello Star. They have had such success that they’ve even been featured in Stylist, Vogue, The Guardian and the Daily Mail. We met up with them to find out why life for the Marshmallowists is so sweet.
So, girls, what made you get into the tasty world of marshmallows?
Like all good stories, it starts with ‘we met in a bar’. I'd (Simm's) just returned from my four-year chocolatier training in Paris, and Smart was ordering a drink. Conversation soon sparked about our shared love of all things French and confectionery-related. A few drinks later (Sally Cinnamons, to be precise), we got tipsy and made a plan to launch the brand. We then spent a few months sussing each other out and testing ideas before we settled on marshmallows.
When did you set up the company?
We’ve just celebrated our first anniversary! So we’re relatively new to the confectionery scene but we’re already making a noise and sparking a new sweet trend. We had our first stall on Portobello Road right outside the bar we first met in, and recently launched our online store.
Oonagh, you were a chocolatier before The Marshmallowists – why did you switch?
It's always been my aim to set up a company at some point during my career. And the opportunity came along (in the form of a highly ambitious Scot), so we just went for it. The fact that gourmet marshmallows were relatively new to the UK allowed us to be as creative as we liked, which suited us perfectly.
Kim, you’ve kept your job in the drinks industry – has that inspired your alcohol-infused marshmallows?
Absolutely! I'm a full-time account manager for a spirits company working with some of the industry’s most iconic brands. It makes my schedule pretty hectic but I love what we do with The Marshmallowists. I'm very proud of how far we've come in a year and maybe one day we'll be regarded as an iconic brand too! Working in the drinks industry means I have a pretty good idea of what flavours work well together, but then that can completely change once the idea makes it to the kitchen! That’s when Simms and I go for trial and error (and there have been a fair few errors...). We take inspiration from everything we try when we’re out and about – our favourite drinks and scents. It’s also great to have contacts in the drinks industry to collaborate with, like we did with Jake Burger at the Ginstitute at the Portobello Star pub. We also listen to what our customers say and work with them on bespoke flavours.
Cupcakes and cookies have been done – how have customers reacted to gourmet marshmallows?
The reception has been wonderful. People often stand a little agog at all the flavours and the fact that they're gluten, dairy, egg white and fat-free – there’s this notion that they're too good to be believed. Sometimes you have to give people a minute to get used to the idea. We learned early on that your customers dictate your business and we had some really constructive comments from our clients, which has helped us build our range. We worked hard on the core range to make sure it was naturally colourful – people respond well to that, too.
How do you choose the flavours?
Through working with chocolate and in the food and drink world, we've always had a good inkling for what flavours work well together. From there it was a matter of sourcing the highest-quality ingredients and letting them do the work...
Which are your favourite flavours?
We have fairly different palates. My (Simms) favourites are Passion Fruit & Ginger, which is really refreshing, and Pear & Elderflower for a traditional English combination. Smart loves Coconut as a milder flavour and Blackcurrant & Mint for its intensity.
What other flavours are you cooking up?
We're adding some winter flavours to the core range for this year (expect the unexpected!) and we're developing the new edition of our festive range which is designed to flavour hot chocolate – more details on that very soon.
You have a stall on Portobello Road, are you planning a permanent site?
It's not our number one aim to have a permanent location, but as demand grows we may well look into pop-up shops and perhaps something more permanent. In the meantime we're working on our Marshmallowists fans being able to find us in cafés and retailers around the country. We also have our online site for those in need of a mallow fix!
Why did you choose Portobello Road for The Marshmallowists, rather than a more food-inspired location such as Borough Market?
It was a natural progression from first meeting in our favourite bar, The Portobello Star. We took over a little spot outside and road-tested flavours with the locals and tourists. It works for us as we stand out more. I wouldn't say no to trying other 'foodie' markets but we're very loyal to Portobello Road as the locals are loyal to us, too.
Do you have regular customers?
We do have many lovely regulars on Portobello Road who come for their weekly mallow fix. The range is definitely geared towards a foodie palate – we don't do vanilla, it’s too boring! The bright colours are definitely eye-catching for younger ages but it's usually adults who end up finding the whole range irresistible.
What’s been the most exciting part in establishing The Marshmallowists?
Simms: Running our own business is incredibly exciting in itself, but the fact that we get to develop new flavours for big campaigns with high-end brands is probably my highlight. We also love working with brides-to-be who can commission their own bespoke flavour for their special day.
Smart: I'm not too proud to admit that I shed a tear when we incorporated the company – I felt so proud. From there, it has to be about being the best in the business. Every time someone compliments the product or even the branding, it makes all the hard work so worth it.
What do you hope to achieve with The Marshmallowists in the next year?
We hope to continue to be regarded as the best at what we do, while keeping the business profitable. We're extremely ambitious so we'd like to pursue every opportunity that comes our way, but while we're still a small business, we have to be selective, and take care of what is effectively our nest egg.
Where do you live?
Smart: West is best... We've both lived in West London for about five years. Simms now splits her time between London and her hometown of Leeds – we recently moved our kitchens up there – but our spiritual home and nightlife playground is most definitely Notting Hill.
How do you spend your spare time?
When we get spare time (quite rare at the moment!), we try and spend of it as possible with friends and enjoying all the fun things London has to offer.
The Marshmallowists; themarshmallowists.co.uk