Last June, without any fanfare, West 8th Street quietly welcomed the 96-year-old California-based chocolatier See’s Candies, the brand’s signature striped awning the only sign of its arrival. Any ensuing buzz surrounding the beloved west coast chain’s arrival came courtesy of its fans: Alec Baldwin and Martha Stewart professed their excitement on social media, and early online reviews trickled in from the populace, rhapsodic from stumbling upon a local outpost.
“See how this is happening?” asks Bill Rhodes, the bowtie-wearing gentleman behind the candy counter, pointing out the female pedestrian stopped outside the shop windows. “Four hundred times a day, all day long people walk by, [then stop] and get excited, scream, cry, take a picture, send it to mom. It’s very exciting—people are thrilled!” Rhodes is president and CEO of Travis Melbren, Inc., and partnered with the 96-year-old chocolate company to bring it to the Big Apple.
“I’ve always thought there really needs to be a See’s Candies in New York,” explains Rhodes, whose past includes a history with brands like Cartier and Harry Winston, and spills that a Saudi Arabian princess staying at the Plaza recently called in an order for 20 cans of toffee-ettes. “I’m here to bring it in a 100 percent full way [as] there are so many caveats to New York City that make it an anomaly, and make it an amazing place. We can bring in [this experience] at the level it should be at.”
At the trademark candy counter at the West Village store, customers can choose from from the 80-plus varieties on display, some of which include notes or even remnants of the sage honey the company favors for the rich, unexpected way it sweetens the chocolate. The Bordeaux, a brown sugar buttercream, is the bestseller with the perplexing name; the Scotchmallow features honey-marshmallow, caramel and dark chocolate; and the special of pure coconut flakes and honey coated in dark chocolate. The candies have a creamier mouthfeel than most chocolate, which Rhodes says is from its freshness and the lack of preservatives, wax or paraffin. “We place orders on Sunday, and they’re air-freighted in by Thursday or Friday, so there’s constant turnover.” assures Rhodes, who was formerly a jeweler to the friends and families of Berkshire Hathaway and refers to their CEO as “Mr. Buffett.” (Berkshire Hathaway purchased See’s in 1972.)
So what took so long for this Buffett-backed company to come to NYC? Legend in California had it the See family wouldn’t allow it to expand, citing concern for quality control, and thus making it the chocolate equivalent of In-N-Out Burger and a very popular gift. Rhodes, a New Yorker since 1994, says he’s dreamt of bringing See’s to his hometown for the last 10 years.
“This is an old great amazing candy company, and when you walk in here, it needs to bring [that] all together,” says Rhode’s of the company’s decision to open downtown. “Nowhere best represented the dichotomy of [old and new] New York than West 8th Street. If it were in Midtown or Times Square, it would take on a whole different feel.” Kiosks of the company-owned chain are also found at retailers like Lord & Taylor’s and Macy’s, which carry limited packaged candies.
“Chocolate shouldn’t last,” says Rhodes, about how See’s focus on freshness sets the brand apart. “Ours is meant to be eaten fresh. Once customers taste it, they know it. It’s a difference you can taste.”
60 West 8th Street @ 6th Avenue
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 21, 2017