Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - June 6, 2014

Shop Talk

by Daryl Savage

MONIQUE'S CHOCOLATES TO CLOSE ... Not all business who leave downtown Palo Alto do so because of rent increases. Such is the case with Monique's Chocolates . "After a very successful five years, we have decided to take a break when our lease runs out," said Monique's owner Mark West, who will be moving to Paris, France. The chocolatier's last day at 539 Bryant St. is June 15. "I was putting in 12 to 18 hours a day. My business has gotten so big and so crazy that even on my day off, I was still working," West said. The chocolate shop was named after West's daughter, Monique. "When we started this business, Monique was younger. Now it's her last year at Paly. It's time to take some time off so I can spend more time with her," West said. "I had the option to renew (the lease). It had nothing to do with the rent. That was not the problem. But we're looking into starting a shop in Paris," West said, adding that he is excited about the new undertaking he faces. "I'm not naive. Moving to Paris and starting a chocolate shop is a challenge of huge proportions," he said. West's decision to close up shop was not made because another chocolate shop moved in across the street. Alegio Chocolate hung out its shingles at 522 Bryant last year. "My decision had nothing to do with the guy that opened up across the street. We're totally different," he said. Customers have been trying to persuade West to reconsider and have urged him to stay put. "It was great to be part of the local community here, but my wife and I are looking forward to our new adventure."

BEE INVASION AT CHOCOLATE GARAGE ... Another downtown chocolate shop took a bit of a hit when it was discovered that an estimated 5,000 honey bees had taken up residence above the ceiling of the Chocolate Garage, 654 Gilman St. "We have been working with a bee specialist to carefully extract the hive, including the queen, and then to relocate these life-giving insects," Chocolate Garage owner Sunita de Tourreil said. The extraction, which took place last weekend, included cutting through the ceiling of the chocolate shop to remove the bees and the hive. Although the bee experts were prepared to suck out the thousands of bees in a vacuum and then relocate them to a beekeeper's backyard in Palo Alto, they found the bees had already vacated the space. "They had to poke around through the ceiling to see where the comb was, then cut out a square," de Tourreil said. In preparation for this, de Tourreil had to get an air-conditioned van to move hundreds of pounds of chocolate out of her shop and into a temperature-controlled wine storage space in Menlo Park. "We're the only chocolate in that storage facility; all the rest is wine," she said. Once the ceiling is repaired, the Chocolate Garage space will reopen. In the meantime, it is business as usual for the chocolate shop. "We have moved into the conference room next door until we are bee-free," de Tourreil said, adding, "This is not what we had planned for the summer."

THREE NEW CLOTHING BOUTIQUES AT T&C ...

A few stylish boutiques have signed on at Town & Country Village in Palo Alto. J. McLaughlin , scheduled to open June 13, replaces the space of three-year-old Crimson Mim , which still has its original store in downtown Los Altos. J. McLaughlin, based on the East Coast and offering classic American sportswear and accessories, is the company's 80th store and its second location in California. "We were immediately attracted to the aesthetics of Town & Country Village. The unique architecture and diverse blend of tenants is compatible with the way our customer likes to shop," said co-founder Jay McLaughlin. The store is hoping to become an active presence in the community, and "Town & Country felt like the perfect place for us to do just that," he said. Also new to the shopping center is Planet Blue, which took over the former San Francisco 49ers Team Store location. Planet Blue, which started in Malibu in 1995, is a Southern California-based retailer selling beach-inspired and bohemian-style fashions. The third new clothing shop to move in is Intermix, a women's boutique. The T&C location is the store's first one in Northern California. Its philosophy is "Mixing fashionable pieces in unexpected ways," according to the store's website.

Heard a rumor about your favorite store or business moving out, or in, down the block or across town? Daryl Savage will check it out. Email shoptalk@paweekly.com.

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