At Sugarbaby, Los Altos comes full circle

Ask Darren Howze why he does what he does, and he points to a hand-painted sign over the store’s entrance. It says, “It’s a Beautiful Day to be Sweet.”

Howze, along with his wife Colleen, is the owner of Sugarbaby Sweetshoppe, a new candy store nestled on State Street that opened in February. Their mission: to create a community gathering spot for both children and adults that will make people happy.

But Howze hasn’t always been a sugar enthusiast. His journey to starting the Sugarbaby Sweetshoppe began decades ago at our very own LAHS.
Darren graduated in 1987 and his wife followed shortly thereafter in 1991. Darren lived on East Edith and played soccer, while Colleen was involved in musical theatre as a member of Girls 21.

After graduating from LAHS, Darren attended Cal Poly, majoring in political science and cultivating an interest in surfing. After college he moved to Hawaii, having visited frequently during his early years.

“My father worked for United Airlines for 45 years [as an engine shop supervisor], so we had flight privileges,” Howze said. “I could fly to Hawaii first class for 20 dollars — I didn’t fly coach until I was 22.”

Howze spent a year and a half in Hawaii, working as a bartender in the Lahaina Hard Rock Cafe and on dinner cruise ships. He continued to surf frequently, one of the main reasons he moved to the island.

Eventually, however, his work drew him back to the bay. He took on a two-week project with HP while visiting over the winter, which soon turned into a job.

“I had every intent of going back to Maui,” Howze said. “I even left my surfboards. But then I ended up staying and fell into the corporate world.”

Howze became involved in sales and project management for numerous technology companies, especially after he left HP 18 months later. He took a job with Meridian Data, a startup that worked on CD-ROM technology, but eventually the company folded.

“As the internet started to pick up in the early ‘90s, Meridian quickly became outdated,” Howze said. “I remember coming to work one day, and everyone was leaving because they had been laid off. I thought to myself, ‘Hey, this internet thing is really turning into something.’”

Over the next 20 years, Howze soon found work with several internet service providers including Uunet and Worldcom. He moved back to Los Altos from Menlo Park in 2013.

Soon, however, he would change his career completely.

“About a year and a half ago, I decided to step out of the corporate arena and do a ‘feel-good’ endeavor,” Howze said. “Downtown Los Altos needed a boutique style sweet shop, a place where families could have a good time… I researched it and developed a business plan — it was very much a labor of love.”

Over the next year, Howze and his wife worked tirelessly to put the shop together, doing much of their own interior design work and decoration. They secured a small space that had long gone unused, but had last been a coffee roaster by the name of “Mr. English.” Finally, they opened their doors this year, at 325 State Street.

Howze says they decided on a sweet shop because unlike other community businesses, it’s inclusive and open to all ages.

“I wouldn’t want to be involved in anything like a bar, serving alcohol,” Howze said. “A sweet shop is something that anyone from 1 to 91 can relate to.”

Sugarbaby Sweet Shoppe attempts to please all kinds, carrying everything from the simplest candies to artisanal and handcrafted local chocolates and truffles. It intends to expand its offerings based on customer interest and availability.

Sugarbaby is not the first sweet shop to open its doors in Los Altos — the Sweet Shop, near Santa Rita, has been open for several years. But Howze says he doesn’t expect to compete with them for business.

“I think they do a great job,” Howze said. “The shop near Santa Rita is a completely different retail ecosystem than downtown.”

Indeed, Sugarbaby’s goals extend far beyond making money.

“[A sweet shop] is a pretty simple thing in a lot of ways,” Howze said. “We want to bring a little sweetness to Los Altos, and brighten up people’s lives.”