Sweet Cheeks Candy Company opens in San Juan Bautista

Barrels full of taffy and old-fashioned candies share space with fancy candied apples and other treats.
Salt water taffy. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Salt water taffy. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Minnie Mouse chocolate apple. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Minnie Mouse chocolate apple. Photo by Robert Eliason.

A colorful—and delicious—addition to San Juan Bautista’s downtown shopping district, Sweet Cheeks Candy Company opened for business on June 18 in the historic Bluebird Hotel building. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by members of the local business community and city officials including Mayor Leslie Jordan, Vice Mayor Cesar Flores, City Councilman John Freeman, and Brewery 25 owner Fran Fitzharris.

“They have a great selection and I loved all the candy,” said City Councilman John Freeman. “I purchased a large bag of saltwater taffy—about five different flavors—and I loved them all, but I think my favorites were the coconut ones.”

The shop’s owners, Lisa Reyes, 35, and Vanessa Cattaneo, 36, tested the waters with a few soft openings over the last two months while they waited for deliveries of inventory and worked at turning their location at 401 Third Street from an old barber shop into a cornucopia of sweets.

“This building is so beautiful, so historic, and so American,” Cattaneo said. “We did some brainstorming about what to put in here but, to us, it just felt like a candy shop. It is a really warm and welcoming place with really good vibes. And my family is from Hollister and San Juan, so it is a good meeting spot for all of us.”

And family is one of the reasons Reyes moved from her native Germany to Hollister in 2018: she is married to Cattaneo’s brother, Robert.

“We were living in Germany for a while after we were married,” she said. “But my husband didn’t really feel like it was his home. We moved to San Diego for about a year, then came here to be near the rest of the family. I enjoyed San Diego, but the feeling of really belonging somewhere is stronger here.”

In March, the two began thinking of a business they could start together, with ideas that included a German-style beer garden, but settled on a candy store as a better reflection of their personalities.   

“We have a vision, for us, and a set of goals,” Cattaneo said. “We have all the classic candies, with a large variety of saltwater taffy being the main thing now. We want to bring in some local candy makers who are very talented and introduce their candies here. And in about two weeks we are going to have some wonderful Berlin truffles.”

They are also planning on selling shaved ice, making cotton candy, and stocking nostalgic and international candies.

“With the taffy, we are trying to find the coolest flavors,” Cattaneo said. “For example, we carry pickle-flavored taffy and people are always wanting to try that one. We want to keep up to date with unusual flavors like that and we are hearing people say, “that is a great flavor—I didn’t know it existed.”

Other taffy flavors available at the moment, include chili mango, red licorice, root beer, pomegranate, strawberry cheesecake, cake batter, and caramel apple, which is Cattaneo’s favorite.

Reyes favors the peaches and cream taffy but Sugar Daddies, a candy she was unfamiliar with before coming to America, is her favorite.

“I didn’t know most of the sweets before because I grew up in Germany and we have different candies there,” she said. “So I tried some of everything and I might have gained a few pounds. But I love the Sugar Daddies and also the Abba-Zaba bars because they are so chewy and I love peanut butter.”

One thing that has proved to be very popular is the line of themed candy apples. The Minnie Mouse design, an apple covered in chocolate, is the most popular now, but there are also happy birthday, Hello Kitty, and ocean-themed apples, with more flavors on the way.

“We listen to what people tell us they would like to see here,” Cattaneo said. And they want more classic apples as well, like M&M, caramel, and red velvet apples—the ones you see in shops in Santa Cruz.”

One thing that Reyes brings to the shop is the exposure that her Instagram account offers.  Posting as @lisarrey, she has over 350,000 followers and will be using the account to tempt people into coming to San Juan Bautista for a visit.

“We have also been getting a lot of support from people in town but we are hoping to get people from Europe to also come to the town, and to the shop, of course,” she said. “They are so interested in American sweets and we have already had visitors coming from Germany. People like the variety of tastes that we have here, and they like the look of the shop, which is important to us. We wanted it to be bright, with a lot of colors, and I think you can feel comfortable here as well.”

Sweet Cheeks is still testing out its hours but is open Wednesday through Sunday in the afternoon.


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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.