Veni’s hits that sweet spot

Published 10:39 am Thursday, February 6, 2014

Michelle Jackson and Linda Skwarcan welcome visitors to Veni's Sweet Shop. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

Michelle Jackson and Linda Skwarcan welcome visitors to Veni’s Sweet Shop. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

NILES — It comes as no surprise that candy is the most commonly exchanged gift at Valentine’s Day. In fact, nearly 50 percent of Valentine’s gifts will include sweets, according to the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association.

Of course, “candy” could refer to the most mundane box of crunchy conversation hearts. However, those who wish to make a more lasting impression on their sweethearts might consider a more artistic gift of chocolates, which not only taste delicious, but are beautiful and memorable in their presentation.

Veni’s Sweet Shop, using old-world, artisanal recipes that have been handed down over 100 years, is one local chocolatier where visitors can pick out the perfect box of chocolates for their particular valentine.

“Ultimately, all of our chocolates have to taste good, but we are also very aware of their appearance as well,” said Linda Skwarcan of Veni’s Sweet Shop. “When you receive a box of chocolates, the first thing you do is see it, and it should look beautiful .”

The staff at Veni’s, which includes veteran chocolatier Sandra Bennitt, creates virtually all of the chocolates on-site in small batches using recipes from the original owners, the Marazita family.

“Our chocolates are hand-dipped, and each one of our creams has a unique and artistic finish to it,” Skwarcan said.

Indeed, even the act of purchasing a gift at the historic location can be an aesthetically pleasing experience.

Original, art-deco glass signs welcome guests to visit Veni’s 228 E. Main St. location in Niles. In fact, as noted in an exhibit featuring the shop at the Fort St. Joseph Museum, the word “veni” in Italian means “come in.”

Currently, a heart-shaped ice sculpture stands pristine beside the entrance, thanks to the frigid temperatures that have lingered since the Hunter Ice Festival. Plate glass windows display traditional red and pink heart-shaped candy boxes, creating a festive mood.

Upon entering the candy store, guests are enveloped by the rich scent of fresh chocolate emanating from the kitchen. More heart-shaped boxes adorn the walls on either side of a art deco hutch that dates back to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

“We have the best selection of heart-shaped boxes in the area, more than we’ve seen anywhere else,” Skwarcan said. “They come from several different companies from across the country.”

While many of the boxes feature satin bows, lace and artificial flowers, Veni’s also offers boxes that are more masculine.

“We actually made some of our own this year,” Skwarcan said. “It’s hard to find boxes that women can feel comfortable giving to men, so, we came up with a camouflage duct tape one and three different collegiate ones, and so far they’ve been very popular.”

Catering to the various preferences of their customers, the staff at Veni’s is willing to repack heart-shaped boxes from years past.

“We have two sets. One group of customers brings their boxes back, and we repack them every year, which we’re happy to do,” Skwarcan said. “Others pick a new heart every year. Perhaps they put them out for decorations after the chocolates are gone.”

Skwarcan said that the most popular assortment is their “deluxe assorted box,” but there are other popular favorites as well.

“Our salted caramels are amazing. They are very, very good. We sell a lot of them. We also sell a lot of turtles. Our cherry cordials are really good, too,” Skwarcan said. “We have something for every age and every taste.”

As a former customer of the sweet shop—taking over the business six years ago with the help of her husband, Larry—Skwarcan is very attuned to the desires of her customers.

“We’re happy to hand-pack when people want to pick out particular chocolates and caramels,” Skwarcan said. “You can pick out your heart and then pick out the chocolates. We will also gift wrap it at no charge.”

Another favorite at this time of year is Veni’s selection of fresh, hand-dipped strawberries, which can be ordered by calling (269) 684-1323 or visiting

“We are currently taking orders for hand-dipped strawberries for Valentine’s day—milk, dark, white, an assortment—however people want them,” Skwarcan said. “That’s always very popular at Valentine’s Day.”