In the last month, a London Cypriot has become a household name in Britain! ALIX NORMAN finds out what drove her to create her highly controversial foodie sensation

In the last few weeks, she’s been featured in The Sun. Wowed on Dragon’s Den. And ‘sparked outrage’ with her controversial creation, according to The Mirror!

Meet Maria Antoniou, the newest Cypriot success story.

She’s 48, a product of a North London upbringing, and self-confessed working class. Her father moved to Britain at the age of 16, taught himself English and, by the age of 30, had a thriving barbershop. Her mother worked for Barclay’s, but set up her own business selling art.

“It’s our mindset, isn’t it?” smiles Maria. “Growing up in Edmonton, all my Cypriot friends came from families who’d started with nothing; had built thriving businesses from the ground up – fish and chip shops, tailors, beauticians, seamstresses like my nan.

feature3 the bar of crisps

The bar of crisps

“That was the attitude that we, as second-generation Cypriots, grew up with. We knew our parents had arrived on a boat with nothing in their pockets, and had built this good life through their own hard work. And it inspired us. It certainly inspired me!”

Maria is the businesswoman behind the UK’s newest foodie sensation, Bar of Crisps.

It’s a snack that sounds so offensive, so wrong, that the UK went up in arms when it first launched. “Disgusting idea!” said some. “An abomination” was the consensus on r/CasualUK.

But then people began trying it. And quickly changed their minds. Because what sounds dreadful in theory is delectable in reality. So much so that Peter Jones, one of the Dragons, scoffed three whole bars on air!

“It was terrifying being on Dragon’s Den,” shivers Maria. “Really intimidating. There are loads of crew and cameras off to your left, and the Dragons right there in front of you – all stony and silent. It’s up to you and you alone to lift the mood of that room, to convince them you’ve got what it takes…”

In the end, the Dragons decided not to invest. But on February 16, the day after the episode aired, Maria woke up to “3,000 emails: loads of potential investors and stockists, and hundreds of orders!”

It’s been non-stop ever since for this London Cypriot. The last month has seen the chocolatier redesign her packaging, sign up stockists all over the UK, and source a factory that can help create her orders.

“When you’re a second-generation immigrant, the message always seems to be ‘go out and get a good education’,” Maria suggests. “Our parents came over with nothing; they didn’t have the opportunities for education that we had. So their default position was that schooling came first – the priorities were completing a degree, securing a good job, bringing in a stable income.

feature3 maria with dragon touker suleyman

Maria with Dragon Touker Suleyman

“But it’s like the old maxim: kids don’t do what you say, they do as you do. And for my generation, that meant following in our parents’ footsteps – we just wanted to go out there and start something meaningful that we could call our own!”

Granted, being a confectionary entrepreneur was not Maria’s first job. It took the economic crisis of 2013 to really set her on the path to chocolate fame.

“I always wanted to start a business of my own. But after university I did the good Cypriot girl thing and went out and got a steady job working for someone else…”

Stints as a copywriter and in publishing followed, working “9 to 5. It was okay, I loved being part of a team. But I really didn’t enjoy having a boss!”

Then, one day in 2009, Maria decided to pull a Shirley Valentine. Suffering from a broken heart, she upped and left for a month’s break in Cyprus.

One month became five years. “I got a job as a PA in Larnaca, and settled down to enjoy the weather, the people, the food. But then the haircut hit,” she recalls. “And, like so many others, I was made redundant. So I moved back to Britain and took yet another corporate job. Still hoping that I’d be able to start my own business one day…”

Five years later the time had come. Inspired by her roots, Maria launched her own company, Chocolate Moments, at London’s Cyprus Wine Festival.

“I was selling tahini brownies, coffee cup treats, triantafilo truffles. I loved bringing the flavours of Cyprus to the public,” she enthuses. “But it was a very niche market, and I knew I needed to expand. It took the pandemic for my next inspiration to hit: there I was, working from my couch and eating handfuls of chocolate and crisps when I had a brainwave – why not combine the two into one product?!”

Getting Bar of Crisps to market wasn’t easy. “There were plenty of evenings I sat at my kitchen table and wept! But my family, the community, the public have been so supportive that they kept me going.

feature3 inside bar of crisps“It’s funny,” she adds. “All I ever wanted to do was make something of my own, like my parents had before me. I wanted to do something that would help people, that would make them happy. And, as a Cypriot, that meant feeding people…

“Our best moments are always round a table, aren’t they?” she acknowledges. “We sit down to eat; we laugh together, cry together, put the world to rights. It’s a family thing, a community thing. It’s in our blood.”

Today, just a few weeks on from her Dragon’s Den appearance, Maria’s Bar of Crisps has become an overnight sensation. People across the UK can’t get enough of her three unique chocolate flavours: Salt & Vinegar, Cheese & Onion, and Ready Salted – crunchy crisps layered into rich Belgian chocolate for an innovative fusion of salt and sweet.

As for Maria? Well, for her, this is just the start…

“I’ve done it, I’ve made something of my own,” she concludes. “Now, I get to see where I can take it. Isn’t that the Cypriot way?”

Bar of Crisps can be ordered from Maria is currently sourcing stockists in Cyprus.