Taking a bow: Chocolatier Hayward Simoneaux

Hayward Simoneaux, owner of Todos Santos Chocolates and Confections, photo Luke E. Montavon/The New Mexican

Hayward Simoneaux has no email, no website, no Facebook or Instagram account. And, contrary to popular belief, his total lack of social media presence has not impacted the success of Todos Santos Chocolates and Confections, the shop he established 20 years ago in La Casa Sena courtyard. Within a few years of opening, Simoneaux was recognized by Chocolatier magazine as one of the top 10 chocolatiers in the United States — and Todos Santos (125 E. Palace Ave., 505-982-3855) had been featured in The New York Times, Vogue, Town & Country, Gourmet, and Forbes, and on the Food Network.

Simoneaux is still making and selling chocolates and other sweets in the same shop where he started out — although he notes a number of changes in both buyers and the city over the past two decades.

“Twenty years ago,” he says, “was really the beginning of the whole artisan chocolate movement. Nowadays, people walk in and say, ‘I want this cacao percentage’ or ‘I like that bean variety.’ That didn’t exist 20 years ago. There was a lot of education in the beginning, and people weren’t used to that kind of a price point either.”

When Simoneaux opened Todos Santos, Señor Murphy Candymaker was the only other game in town. Today, a quick internet search turns up close to a dozen. Some of his regular customers shop at all the stores, Simoneaux says, and some just shop with him. “The way that it works in this small city is that we’ve all kind of found our unique niche, and so even though that number has increased over the years, my business has never gone down because of that, which is kind of amazing. I think it’s just because we are all so different.”

Although he acknowledges that he has always loved chocolate and sweets, Simoneaux did not start out to become a chocolatier — or a Santa Fe shopkeeper, for that matter. While an undergraduate at New York’s Parsons School of Design, he took the opportunity to do part of his studies in Paris, where he started collecting vintage chocolate molds from antique shops and flea markets — not with the intention of using them but because he thought they were beautiful. Before he knew it, he says, he had amassed a vast collection of chocolate molds. After he finished school and was back in the States, he read about a man who made new silicone chocolate molds. “I thought that might be fun,” Simoneaux muses, “so I flew out to work with him and took several classes over several days learning how to actually make chocolate molds.”

Playing around with chocolate was the logical next step. Initially making candy just for friends, Simoneaux developed some of the key features of what is now his signature style. He had seen truffles flecked with edible gold while he was living in Paris and realized he could apply the gilding technique he had learned working for a framer to candymaking. “I had molded my milagro collection by then,” he says, “and thought it would be fun to cover the chocolate in [edible 23-karat] gold and silver so they would look like real milagros” — folk charms, religious medals, and other symbols believed to support physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.

At that point, Simoneaux, a native of New Orleans, had already moved to Santa Fe. “Growing up, I always spent August and Christmas here. An older sister opened a gallery here,” he says, “and I came just to help her out for a little while — not with the intention of staying — but then I kind of fell in love and stayed.”

The popularity of the milagros and Simoneaux’s truffles helped him decide on a next step: “I wanted to work for myself,” he says, “and I just came up with the idea of a chocolate shop.”

But to call Todos Santos a candy store is to miss the point — and the unique place it holds in Santa Fe’s culinary scene. A recent visit found a large, gray papier-mâché Buddha wearing a glittering death mask and a Chinese opera headdress holding court in the shop window, accompanied by some naughty-nurse Pez containers, painted wooden kachinas, ornately wrapped candy boxes, bright strips of tinsel and beads, blue monkey-like boys, and disco balls. More mirrored balls of different sizes and monkey boys hung from tree branches arching over the front door, along with faux poinsettias, fuzzy pink and blue balls, and birds’ nests filled with golden eggs — an exuberantly idiosyncratic riot of color, texture, shape, and wit that previews what can be found inside.

The tiny, 400-square-foot shop is stuffed, literally from floor to ceiling, with brightly colored art, tchotchkes, and sweets of all descriptions. Red-beaded serpents vie for attention with slightly ominous black-and-white kittens clutching shiny bags of dark chocolate-covered sea salt pecans. Artisanal chocolate bars fill some shelves, while traditional Santas, snowmen, and Christmas trees march across others. The overall effect is childlike and elegant and kitschy — a total sensory overload.

A glass case displays Simoneaux’s handmade Valrhona truffles, singly and in boxes, along with chocolates from other high-quality makers. The gift boxes are elaborately wrapped, beribboned, and topped with folk-art-like tie-ons — “things you get to keep after the candy is gone,” he says. “Customers come in and tell me, ‘My Christmas tree is full of your stuff that I’ve gotten over the years.’ ”

Simoneaux, who collects folk art, buys original work from local artists to package candy or just add to the ambience of the shop. He has represented Santa Fe artist Rick Phelps, whose recycled papier-mâché sculptures are displayed at Todos Santos and Café Pasqual’s dining room and gallery, for years. Albuquerque’s Steve White crafts the cheeky Pez containers and kachinas; Gina Namkung makes the surprise balls stuffed with toys and trinkets. “All of these people bring something unique and local to the store,” he says. “I wanted the store to feel very Santa Fe and New Mexico, but I didn’t necessarily want chile ristras or howling coyotes. I wanted to go in another direction.”

Another business decision underscores the local nature of Simoneaux’s shop: He no longer ships any candy or wholesales to other stores or catalogs, like Dean & Deluca. “I decided to pull all that back,” he says, “so now you literally have to walk in here to get my candy — which also makes it more special.”

Choosing to stay small and local has not hurt Simoneaux’s business. He has given his finely crafted chocolate, eclectic design aesthetic, and exuberant sense of humor to the city. And the city has returned his affection. “I have a huge local clientele,” he says. “They are extremely loyal and amazing. Santa Fe has been really good to me. I feel very lucky.” 

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