Prestat’s most famous customer is arguably Roald Dahl, author of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and master of the short-story with his Tales of the Unexpected. Bill Keeling and his half-brother Nick Crean acquired Prestat in October 1998 they would never have guessed how apt the collective title of Roald Dahl’s stories would be.
Prestat has held a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty The Queen for over 35 years. In 1999, Prestat was privileged to be awarded a second Royal Warrant from Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in her centenary year.
The business was founded by French émigré Antoine Dufour and the date on all the boxes has the year as 1902. Of his first 16 employees hired up to Christmas 1894, five were French, three Swiss, two Belgian, two from Alsace (now part of France), one Italian, one Spanish and a mysterious Alexandre Huch of no recorded nationality.
Antoine came from a family of highly proficient confectioners and chocolatiers. Crystallising fruits was very much in vogue and he lovingly recorded his purchases of raspberries, strawberries, cherries, grapes and blackcurrants. Today they have his recipes for chocolate caramels, coffee caramels, Turkish Delight, chocolate fudge, violet fondant, rose fondant and, of course, chocolate truffles.
Prestat Chocolates on Jermyn Street
Prestat quickly became famous for its cocoa-dusted truffles, which Antoine Dufour wittily named ‘Napoleon III’ after the 19th Century rotund gourmand French emperor who spent his exile in London with his loyal chef.
The first Prestat shop was opened at 24 South Molton Street and the business clearly thrived. Antoine and Amelia had five children (Tony, Jeanette, Winifred (aka Lesley), Doris and Warwick) and groomed their eldest Tony to take over the business. Tony ran the business through the difficult period of rationing in the 1950s. It would have been a Herculean task and he succeeded only to be faced with the most difficult of all decisions. Entering old age and with no children of his own, he would have to sell Prestat if it were to survive. The Dufour period of ownership was about to end.
In 1902 Neville Croft and his wife Elisabeth took over the shop. Neville was a thespian and took to the business like a duck to water. He divided his office off from the shop with a red velvet curtain and took to appearing with a theatrical flourish and a large hat whenever he heard a customer of note making a purchase.
Prestat has enjoyed a celebrity clientele from its inception. Antoine Dufour had created a special chocolate – a type of inverted violet crème– for the actress Sarah Bernhardt in the 1910s and the Crofts’ theatrical connections resulted in frequent visits from actors such as John Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft. And in more recent times Cher, Tina Turner, Rod Stewart and Paul McCartney t name a few
Prestat was a favoured haunt of Roald Dahl, author of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, who made Prestat truffles the centrepiece of his novel My Uncle Oswald. In the book, a raucous comic romp, a love potion hidden inside irresistible Prestat truffles is secretly fed to Europe’s monarchs. In the real world, Prestat had for many years supplied (unadulterated) chocolates to the British royal family and in 1975 it was granted a Royal Warrant as Purveyors of Chocolates to Her Majesty The Queen.After Neville Croft’s reign, Prestat was then acquired by Stanley S. Cohen in 1980, he was a successful entrepreneur with numerous business interests ranging from property development to fine porcelain. The challenges, however, proved extreme. As feared, production of chocolates in South Molton Street was halted shortly before the business moved from its birthplace to the current Piccadilly premises at 14 Princes Arcade.
The shop was well-cared for, enjoying a refurbishment in the early 1990s, but it lacked day-to-day leadership with Stanley Cohen having significantly larger businesses to manage. His other priorities included work for charities, in particular The Duke of Edinburgh Award – for which he was honoured with the Order of the British Empire.Prestat might have continued happily in this fashion for many years if Bill Keeling’s half-brother Nick Crean hadn’t taken an interest. Finally Bill & Nick purchased the shop in 1988 which they happily run today. The shop is located just off Jermyn Street in the Princes Arcade. An indulgent visit is highly recommended!
Prestat (14 Princes Arcade, Piccadilly, London, SW1Y 6DS)