La Verne shop carves out a niche in downtown

Floral designer John Nogales and co-owner Sharon Trejo show off the offerings of the Sweet Shoppe. Sharon manages the ice cream and candy, and makes the homemade fudge. John, a floral designer for 15 years, oversees the flower shop and its arrangements. / photo by Garrett Gutierrez

by Julissa Cardenas
photography by Garrett Gutierrez

Stepping into the Sweet Shoppe in downtown La Verne is stepping into three stores in one. That craving for ice cream that led you inside is now diverted by an impulsive craving for candy and then a desire to buy a bouquet of flowers. This is exactly what Bridget Drake, the owner, has in mind. Unlike most small businesses, the Sweet Shoppe makes it its mission to survive by not just offering one thing to its customers but by providing three.

Bridget and daughter Sharon Trejo, part owner, decided that their specialty items would be ice cream, candies and flowers, all conveniently partnered. This sometimes “overwhelming variety is needed to thrive in this economy,” says Bridget. Positive customer feedback the two receive drives them to add more items. “I am very proud of the business I have. In this economy, a business cannot survive on one product or gimmick. You need something that will make you stand out but also something that goes together and benefits the customers,” she says.

With its grand opening February 2010, the shop has quickly become a vital part of old downtown La Verne. The idea for the combined business came to Bridget and Sharon when Pat Gatti, long-time owner of a flower shop, retired. Then Dippin’ Dots Ice Cream also closed. With a retired florist, a closed ice cream shop, a space to lease and a new idea, Bridget turned the closed Dippin’ Dots space into her own ice cream, candy and flower shop. Bridget, from Pomona, says she has made it her mission to thrive in this intimate downtown area, with her innovative ideas and her willingness to make customers happy.

She once was the owner of the Upland restaurant “Jingles”; however, after 4 1/2 years, she sold the restaurant. “I have many years of experience, and, even though the restaurant was more than 15 years ago, I now have an ice cream shop. Although the businesses are demanding, I know that I am ready to get back into it again, and I really enjoy the shop I have today.” She says her family run business is a plus. “Not that many customers get the family feel with a business now a days.” She hired John Nogales, a family member, to manage and arrange the floral designs. And aside from delivering flowers, this is the only shop in La Verne that can wire flowers out for its customers.

Both Bridget and John agree that successful businesses do customer extras. They receive orders for elaborate bouquets, party trays, novelty gifts and even that one single rose that John does not hesitate to provide. “People come in here asking for a single rose, and that’s OK with us; whatever the customer wants, we can make it happen,” she says. For Trish Ciccoianni, University of La Verne assistant director of annual giving, that was true. She says she was recently surprised to receive a flower arrangement from her husband, arranged by the shop. “The flowers are so beautiful, and I’m surprised to say that they really last, which not many flowers do; they are really beautifully arranged.” Even though the shop is located across the street from the University, most of Bridget’s customers are city residents. “The students need to know that we can provide our services for dances, the holidays or even for any gift they are thinking of buying,” John says. “A nicely arranged bouquet for a teacher is a great gift, and it requires personalized attention and quality that the market cannot provide,” Bridget says.

The tasty part of the shop consists of ice cream, candy and other delectable goods that keep customers coming back. There are 21 ice cream flavors—including favorites pistachio almond, spumoni, chocolate malted crunch, bubble gum, cookies and cream, rocky road, black cherry and classic vanilla. The ice cream is all from Humbolt and Thrifty, two famous ice cream brands. Delicious banana splits, where customers can mix and match flavors, are ready for the making. If a customer wants a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of coconut pineapple, it can be done. One scoop is $1.40, and the special waffle cone is $4.50. “I am just trying to supply the customers with what they want while at the same time trying to put a little extra money in my pocket,” she says. “I just need a little help paying the bills.”

Available, too, is candy. Some is sold weighed ($2.50 a quarter pound) while some has a set price. Weighed candy includes jellybeans, gummy worms, gummy army men, chocolate malt balls, sugar rock candy, caramel chews, Swedish fish, fruit runts and skittles. The set price selection includes the always favorite “Pop Rocks” that tingle and crackle in your mouth, to sugar daddies and the good old tootsie roll pops that get chewy at the center. There is also novelty candy—stallion, kings and lucky lights gum plus wafers, whirly pops, sixlets and candy buttons. A new customer favorite, fudge, made by Bridget, is sucrose free and comes in 12 flavors. The fudge is $12.99 a pound, but is also sold in small pieces.

Bridget’s business savvy comes from her will to succeed. “I believe in good old fashioned business. I miss the old customs of a personal touch between a customer and a shop owner,” she says. “In the end, I believe that old-school rules.”

Editor’s Note: Regretfully, after press time and a week before Christmas Day, the Sweet Shoppe owners, without announcement, closed their business. Festive snowmen in a holiday scene on now closed Sweet Shoppe store windows stood in contrast to the overwhelming challenges facing this small business as it tried to survive in a tough business climate.

The traditional three ice cream favorites highlight a 21 flavor menu. / photo by Garrett Gutierrez

Two great anniversary treat tips

Anniversaries are a time to thoughtfully remember that special someone with a greeting and sweets. Gift ideas that express this well come from two of La Verne’s specialty shops.

Sinfully Sweet Apple Company
2084 Foothill Blvd., La Verne

Look for beautiful anniversary apple arrangements, with prices starting at $5.50. Also on the menu are cupcakes, chocolate dipped fruit, cheesecakes, pretzels, wedding apples, edible ornaments, rice krispy candy (try the chocolate dip) and popcorn. La Verne delivery is $5.

Ellsworth’s Stationers
2317 D St., La Verne

The store has a card for all occasions. Have a special design in mind? Ellsworth’s can order it for you. The store has decorative paper, parchment paper and the classic stationary for that special card, starting at 15 cents per page. A well written, personalized letter really makes a difference.

With more than 50 jars of candies, the Sweet Shoppe lives up to its name. Offered are everything from red, white and blue gummy freedom rings to fruit candies and chocolate sweets. / photo by Garrett Gutierrez