You’ve got less than two weeks to buy handcrafted chocolates and toffee-packed cookies and to schedule lunch dates at this West San Jose cafe.
This Valentine’s Day will be the final one for the Dolce Bella Chocolate Cafe.
The shop has lost its lease and will shut down at the close of business Saturday, Feb. 16, a victim of shopping center revitalization that would double the rent.
“We have such a great customer base,” award-winning chocolatier Audrey Vaggione said after she first received the news, noting that her devoted clientele had already followed her from Saratoga several years ago when she expanded to this larger shop and added a restaurant.
“Word has spread” about the impending closing, “and we have been exceptionally busy lately,” she said.
Super Bowl Sunday couldn’t keep her regular customers away.
“We’re sure going to miss this place,” customer Emily Reese, of San Jose, said. “I come here once a week with friends from church. It’s small enough where you can have conversations with people. And good food too!”
Besides the chocolates, which are made here in the open kitchen, Dolce Bella has a strong following for its chocolate beverages, available four ways. There’s Hot Chocolate, with 72 percent chocolate, steamed milk, marshmallows and whipped cream; Hot Cocoa, with house-made chocolate syrup; Chile Hot Chocolate, with house-made chile power and habanero infusion; and Drinking Chocolate, a thick, decadent version served in an espresso cup.
Vaggione had hoped to stay put at Westgate West, but the new owners of the center, a real estate investment trust called Donahue Schriber, are “cleaning house” and “re-tenanting,” she said, and they refused to negotiate a lower rent while the center undergoes two years of construction that would disrupt business. Representatives of Donahue Schriber did not respond to requests for comment.
A Menlo Park native and longtime Saratoga resident, Vaggione was a dessert baker from her teen years, but she first followed the career path of physical therapy.
“I started making chocolates as a Mitty fundraiser, then when the kids were in school, I took classes at Home Chef and eventually taught there,” she recalled in a Mercury News interview. In 2005, she graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco with an emphasis in confections.
In 2008, after years of selling her confections at farmers markets, she opened a shop in Saratoga, making chocolates with fruit and herb fillings created from her garden. Two years later, she moved to the Prospect Road space at Westgate West and expanded with a full cafe concept.
Over the years, Vaggione has been honored by the San Francisco Chocolate Salon, including being named “master chocolatier.”
Fans on Yelp rave about the desserts, coffee and food — even the fresh flowers on each small table. “Owners work the store daily. My favorite kind of small business,” said a posting from a Mountain View customer.
After the closing, Vaggione hopes to get a home/cottage permit and keep baking the toffee cookies and some other popular items for direct orders and sales through other retailers. But this month’s chocolates will be the final ones for sale.
That’s means the upcoming chocolate lover’s holiday will result in some ultra-busy days for Vaggione and her crew.
“We’re making all we can for Valentine’s Day,” she said.
Details: Dolce Bella is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday (9 to 6 Sunday) for breakfast, lunch and early dinner, plus chocolates, pastries and other desserts at any hour. 5325 Prospect Road, San Jose; 408-446-4296; www.dolcebellachocolates.com.
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