Store making sweet return to Santa Fe

February 4, 2019

C.G. Higgins Confections — long known for its chocolate-covered strawberries for Valentine’s Day, plus a variety of chocolates and candies — is back.

The popular business is making its return under a new name — Sweet Santa Fe — and new ownership in a new location: the Fashion Outlets of Santa Fe.

That’s a big change from the downtown Lincoln Avenue or St. Francis Drive locations where Chuck Higgins built a sweet following for the 13 years he crafted confections before selling the business in 2016.

But the new owners — Diana Kelley, Cindy Smiles and Charles Kelleman, the top three candy makers in the C.G. Higgins days — don’t see Fashion Outlets as the other side of Santa Fe.

“I live in Eldorado,” Kelley said. “I can get to the outlet mall faster than downtown.”

Higgins is not part of the new ownership group, but he’s actively “shepherding” the trio, closely advising them every step of the way.

The Sweet Santa Fe owners said they are not deterred by seeing stores in only 14 of the 34 storefronts at Fashion Outlets, though Fashion Outlets general manager Neda Talebreza said about half of the leaseable square footage is occupied.

“That’s what it looks like now,” Smiles said. “We are the harbingers of change.”

There are others: A new Fashion Outlets digital sign was installed along Cerrillos Road in early January. It is the first digital sign for the outlet mall, which opened in 1993.

“Fashion Outlets of Santa Fe is currently in negotiations with several new tenants that will bring delicious food and a unique shopping experience to South Santa Fe,” according to an official statement from Fashion Outlets, which is owned by Wells Fargo Bank and managed by Colliers International in Albuquerque.

Fashion Outlets officials declined interview requests.

Sweet Santa Fe intends to open Thursday in a temporary space in Suite 412 to supply Valentine’s Day shoppers with the popular C.G. Higgins chocolate-covered strawberries and “as many candy products as we can make happen,” Higgins said.

“This is best described as an extremely soft opening,” Higgins said.

The real opening is expected around Memorial Day in the 2,250-square foot space once occupied by Harry & David’s.

The store will not only be a chocolate and candy shop but also a breakfast and lunch stop, with flowers available to take to nearby Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center.

“Right now you can’t buy a cup of coffee [at Fashion Outlets],” Higgins said.

Higgins will again roast his own coffee beans sourced from a Rainforest Alliance Certified supplier in Nicaragua, and the coffee will be the only C.G. Higgins-branded product in the store. Offerings will include coffee, espresso and latte.

Sweet Santa Fe will serve breakfast bagel sandwiches, with bagels from BoulTawn’s Bakery & Caféon Marcy Street.

The Sweet Santa Fe owners gravitated to the Harry & David space because a pair of six-door and four-door walk-in refrigerators were left behind and will fit their needs. A commercial kitchen is being installed that will be available for sublease.

Customers should recognize the C.G. Higgins candies and chocolates, Kelley and Smiles said.

“They are his recipes,” Smiles said.

“We will be true to the recipes and formulas and put an occasional spin on products,” Kelley added. “We want to continue the tradition of what we did in the past.”

Higgins embraces the notion of reviving his confections.

“They have been amazingly true to the formula,” Higgins said. “They are the legacy of C.G. Higgins Confections.”

Higgins has been a candymaker for 35 years, originally based in New Orleans. He started selling his goods at the New Mexico State Fair and over 20 years his booth came to be known as “Chuck’s Nuts.”

After a few years of hauling three tons of confections between New Orleans and Albuquerque, Higgins moved to Santa Fe in 2001 and opened the Lincoln Avenue store in 2003.

Kelley came on board part time in 2006, and Smiles followed in 2014, with Kelleman arriving in 2016 just months before Higgins sold the business to Irby Cox. Kelley, Smiles and Kelleman stayed on with Cox, and after a year he put the chocolate equipment into storage and ownership passed on to Joe Garcia.

Garcia dropped the C.G. Higgins Confections name and left the chocolate equipment in storage. Kelley, Smiles and Kelleman stayed with Garcia until he let them go on Valentine’s Day 2018.

Right away, they turned to Higgins to buy back the chocolate equipment and by March were in touch with Talebreza at Fashion Outlets.

“We want to continue the tradition of what we did in the past,” Kelley said.