Stacy Sullivan has fond memories of visiting a now-defunct neighborhood market during her years as a student at Terman Middle School and Gunn High School in the 1960s. During lunch or after school, she'd hop on the bike path and ride a couple of miles to grab some candy or a drink at Foodland, which was just a few steps up the road from the path's Los Altos entrance.
Foodland shut down around 2000 and stood vacant for years in the sleepy North Los Altos neighborhood. Sullivan, now a married mother of two who lives two streets away, was walking by one day with her family and thought, "'We should just redo this, do a whole revamp and open this as something really cool for the community, something that could be a hangout.'"
And thus, Sweet Shop -- a quaint, wood-shingled cottage whose interior walls are lined with candy and painted sayings like, "Life is sweet!" -- was born. Sullivan, a longtime Googler who is now the company's "chief culture officer" (CCO), opened the shop in 2009 hoping it would become a true community gathering space, rather than simply a popular cafe that she would reap the profits from. All Sweet Shop proceeds go to local public schools, including Sullivan's alma maters in Palo Alto and the Los Altos schools her sons attend. The shop makes donations a few times a year, often putting the money toward technology-focused educational efforts.
"It's a nominal amount, but what's nice is it's kind of a big deal for the schools," Sullivan said. "It's more just the philosophy -- we're not doing this to make more money; we're doing it because it's a really fun, really great and really rewarding way to appreciate the community, which we really love."
Traces of that attitude are everywhere in the rustic, whimsical shop. The employees who ring you up or make your Verve Coffee Roasters latte are often Gunn or Los Altos High students and are on a first-name basis with some customers. A note on the tip jar at the front counter reminds you that all tips will go straight to local schools. A "Little Free Library" sits out front; customers and passersby are encouraged to swap out the books with their own.
But back to the sweets. One large wall is dedicated to candies by the pound, with rows of teal-colored shelves stocked with glass jars full of with traditional confections: M&Ms, peach rings and sour gummies. All candy is $8.99 per pound. There's even a gumball machine and Dippin Dots ice cream case.
Sprinkled throughout the shop are more high-end, carefully curated goodies: San Francisco's TCHO and Poco Dolce chocolates, Lindt Lindor truffles and Twenty-Four Blackbirds chocolate (handmade in Santa Barbara).
The shop also serves frozen yogurt, breakfast sandwiches and panini. A small selection of baked goods are delivered daily from local bakeries including Icing on the Cake in Los Gatos and Kelly's French Bakery in Santa Cruz. On a recent morning, there were buttery scones, cinnamon morning buns, mini pecan pies and perfectly latticed strawberry rhubarb tartelettes. Breakfast is served all day and lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Breakfast comes in the form of a "croissantwich" (fresh croissant with two organic eggs and melted cheddar cheese, $4.50) and an egg white "skinny" bowl (two fluffy organic egg whites, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and generous dollops of goat cheese and warm, flavorful pesto on top; $4.25). Lunch is slightly more extensive, with six types of panini ($4 to $5.50) and organic tomato soup ($3.75 for a bowl). The panini are both kid- and adult-friendly. The "classic 1920" comes with grilled cheddar cheese on country-style wheat bread, while the "fondue" features brie, sliced apples and a drizzle of honey on sourdough bread. Indulge with the "dolce panini": challah bread with nutella and fresh strawberries, sprinkled with powdered sugar and chocolate chips.
"It's a combination of something for everyone," said Sullivan, who loves ice cream and frozen yogurt, but whose husband is a health freak.
Sweet Shop shows its commitment to the environment with solar panels on the roof and skylights to cut down on electricity use. The shop also uses all biodegradable or recyclable cups, plates, bowls and even plastic bags for the candy. But the real focus here is building community. In addition to supporting schools, Sullivan said the shop participates in local book drives and has been used by neighbors as a stop on treasure hunts.
"A lot of people ask, 'Is it what hoped it would be?' If you go there on a given day, it's usually buzzing with kids coming on bikes and families doing their daily walks over to the Sweet Shop. It's become a local destination, which is exactly what we wanted."
994 Los Altos Ave., Los Altos
Tuesday -- Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Saturday: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday: 11a.m. to 5 p.m.