Once upon a time there was a boy in Boston called Robbie, who was both entrepreneurial and creative from a young age, always cooking up ways to amuse himself and make a few dollars at the same time.
Among his various skills was actual cooking, which seemed to come naturally to him. But it wasn’t until 1999, when he met Dennis, that he started cooking up sweets from Dennis’ family recipes. Caramel and other candies ‘came easy’, as he recalls, ‘despite all the stirring’. And so begins a saga lasting some 20 years.
Nowadays, if you stroll down Carrer d’Àngel Vidal toward St Sebastian beach in Sitges, far down to your left, your eyes are drawn to a warm, colourful shop window that’s constantly changing and displaying new surprises.
Years ago, this cosy locale was home to a chocolate shop, so the name Xocolatl is, most appropriately, still visible above the large front window where the new name of Sweet Sitges is written across the glass. This is the realisation of a dream, bringing together a place, a craft, and a small local business supporting other local suppliers and creators.
A real treat for Sitgetans and visitors, Sweet Sitges offers not only the owner’s home-made chocolates in a wide range of fruit and spiced flavours, delicious fruit jellies (my addiction) and other confections made not just by Robbie himself but also by several others from the area, plus local products from malvasía wine to T-shirts.
Robert Webber and husband Dennis took the plunge to move to Sitges in 2018 from their last home in LA when they simply got tired of waiting and thought, ‘Why not now?’. Once settled and having people over, Robbie took to his natural impulse to make sweets for their friends, who encouraged him to sell his goodies somewhere in Sitges.
He started out selling caramels and chocolates through local shops, till he and Dennis took the deeper plunge and opened their own ‘confectionery’. Both had long been successful entrepreneurs in the US, in Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles, and came here with the experience, resources and confidence to remake their lives and above all, the desire to fit in and enjoy a place and a culture, in Sitges and Barcelona, that they had taken to from their first visit.
The shop on Àngel Vidal is a fluke that seems should not have worked out as well as it has. A couple of years ago the wide window was being used for streetside advertising for other locales to let, but Robbie went to the agency to ask about renting the shop itself.
Told first that it was not for rent, he was then offered the space and incredibly, in the midst of an awful winter of restrictions and face-masking, opened in December 2020 to a very good first season. Angel Vidal ‘is not a shopping street’, as Robbie notes, but ‘the townsfolk have been very supportive’. In fact, at this point, if he moved to a larger venue in a busier street, he would need to hire another confectioner, as he is currently working as hard as he can to keep up with demand for his sweets.
But Sweet Sitges is developing into more than a fine confectionery and chocolate shop. Robbie is bringing in not only known and loved local products such as malvasía, marzipan, and catànies or candied almonds, but also the work of local artisans.
There are ceramic plates in rich colours, cards for all occasions with striking photographs of Sitges scenes and local details, and most recently, Sweet Sitges T-shirts with the shop logo in a beautiful watercolour wash. And perhaps the most striking products, that always catch the attention of passers-by, are the many and varied mermen hanging about the place, the only foreign element in the shop besides the owner.
All in all, Robbie wants to develop a largely local, green business. He uses fair trade chocolate sourced through a Belgian company, green energy in the shop, and is hoping to find biodegradable packaging that can be used for food products.
He gets involved in local events, most recently creating a box of chocolates with images from an exhibition in Palau Maricel. There is always window-dressing reflecting local events and holidays, and often someone handing out chocolates at the door on special days. And Robbie is doing his best in his busy life to learn more Spanish and Catalan and so be able to fit in more comfortably.
But meanwhile, everyone will always be greeted warmly and find it easy enough to communicate with someone who is loving his work and living the realisation of a dream.
Sweet Sitges is at Carrer d’Àngel Vidal 31, Sitges 08870.
Eve Schnitzer’s life has fallen into sections of some 20 years. The first 21 were spent in Montreal and Ottawa, the next 20 in Barcelona teaching at ESADE Idiomes, and more than 20 (too many) back in Ottawa teaching both English and Spanish, as well as training language teachers. Now retired, she is very happy to be back in Catalunya enjoying the Sitges atmosphere and the rich cultural life of Barcelona close at hand.
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