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Specializing in the Sweet Stuff

Whether they sell cookies, cupcakes or yogurt, businesses that hawk sweets have become all the rage in the Los Angeles area in recent years.

Now the trend of sugary-oriented establishments is hitting the Conejo Valley, the home of three new such businesses as well as of an industry mainstay.

For the past three years at least, Danny Margolis, vice president of Command Performance Catering, has seen a spike in interest in businesses that feature sweets bars, cupcakes and the like. His company routinely refers clients to businesses that specialize in providing sweets. According to Margolis, many clients even seek out sweets that match the color theme of events they're organizing. The reason? Everyone wants their events to be as memorable as possible, Margolis feels.

No matter the specific items treats purveyors provide, most share the commonality of allowing patrons to customize goods in some manner. Challenges include the rising cost of ingredients, securing fresh produce and carving out a niche in the gift industry.

"People are busier today than ever before and these things are really an indulgence. ... That's what I think people are doing with their spare time, stopping and taking some time to savor the sweeter things in life," explained Tony Miller of Thousand Oaks-based Treat Sweets of the popularity of such businesses.

Located in the Parahso lifestyle center, the store just opened. It offers everything from candy to cake to pie and contains a dessert bar.

Miller is counting on the shop's setup and gift offerings to set it apart from other establishments. Patrons can sample wares and purchase tea and coffee. Retail offerings include cookware, hostess gifts and children's gifts.

Miller, who has a background in real estate, said that describing just what Treat Sweets is can be a challenge. "It's never been done before. It's interesting. Even the consultants have gotten it wrong in certain areas," he said.

Cofounders Mark Boos Benhard and Jim Kelley of Kookie Krazy, which opened May 31 in Janss Marketplace in Thousand Oaks, also believe their shop is a standout.

In its first month, more than 3,000 customers have visited, according to Benhard. Each has the option of choosing six kinds of cookie dough and more than 40 toppings to make a cookie into any shape they want.

"The create-your-own-cookie concept-we realized no one has tried to do this before," said Benhard.

He believes Kookie Krazy has done well thus far because it is a food-centered business with activities for the entire family. "There are very few places that really appeal to both adults and children," he said. With the shop's offerings generally less than $5, it's affordable too, Benhard continued.

That's not to say it's been without challenges. "One obstacle is that a lot of what we sell is raw cookie dough," Benhard said. "We use 100 percent free-pasteurized egg whites. To offset that, we wanted to get the best quality product there was, so that was one issue."

Cookies by Design franchisor Ryan Paules. in Westlake Village, said the rising cost of ingredients is a challenge. "Flour has increased over 100 percent; eggs and butter, all ingredients are more expensive across the board."

Paules doesn't necessarily view other purveyors of sweets as competition; rather his rivals include any company in the gift industry.

While customers who walk into the shop to buy snacks for themselves typically spend between $5 and $10, those ordering cookie bouquets typically spend $70, so the gift side of the business is more profitable.

CRAVE Fruit Bar in Thousand Oaks offers neither cookies nor candy, putting a twist on the traditional treat business with owner Mariana Tejera drawing in those who fancy something yummy but want a healthful food experience at the same time.

A native of Peru, Tejera formerly helped manage her mother's restaurant. "I knew I wanted to do something on the healthier side," she said. "Instead of having high-sugar and high-in-fat food, why not have something as good but healthy for you?"

Everything served at CRAVE has a touch of fruit but finding a vendor who could consistently deliver fresh fruit was a challenge.

"It came with a lot of research," Tejera said. "I put the fruit through the ripening process it needs in order to be the best fruit that tastes great, that people will love."

Source: San Fernando Valley Business Journal Online

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