Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 40 Issue 12 • July 22-28, 2010
now in our 40th season

Featured Entrepreneur
Sweet Inspirations

Sweet InspirationsLittle did John West know when he was a child in Milton, Massachusetts that his future was carried on the breeze. 

West grew up in that historic town just outside of Boston, and every afternoon throughout his childhood the scent of chocolate from Milton’s Walter Baker Chocolate Factory (the first in New England) filled the air.  “There’s nothing better than the scent of chocolate wafting on the breeze,” John smiled. 

His chocolate connection continued through high school and beyond, when John worked at a Milton confectionary (“the job put me through college”).  He went on to a job in corporate high tech in Boston, where he met Kathy, his partner in life and in buisness.  And it was Kathy who brought John to Nantucket.

“John had never been to Nantucket,” commented Kathy, who had family on the island.  So she brought him to the island one September to visit.  “We left Hyannis on the Hy-Line boat in pouring rain,” John explains.  “About 2 miles off Nantucket, the rain stopped, and I saw the island with that golden light after a storm hitting the town and the steeples, giving them a beautiful glow.”  With a smile and a blush he went on...”I just fell in love with Nantucket—I thought ‘this is my place’.”

Sweet Inspirations

John decided to take a risk to follow a dream. Within a year they had created the business plan for Sweet Inspirations.  John and Kathy carefully chose the name of their artisan chocolate shop: “We were truly inspired by a love for the Island, its people, visitors, and natural beauty.  We coupled these heartfelt interests with our chocolate and business heritage to create artisan chocolates reflecting our passions.”  They started wholesaling in 1981 and in 1983 they opened their first shop on-island, close to the White Elephant, across from The Mad Hatter.  Now located in the heart of town at 26 Centre Street, Sweet Inspirations is very much a part of the tapestry of Nantucket. 
Sweet Inspirations has a spotless artisan kitchen in their shop—the sort that used to be in every small chocolate shop across the country, but now are very rare.  All their artisan chocolates are made right here on Nantucket using very fresh, top-shelf ingredients from Belgian chocolate to fresh cream and high-quality fruits, nuts, and flavorings.  Through a window in the back of the shop, visitors can watch the small batch chocolates being made with pride and precision by a team of chocolatiers - hand-wisking the fresh cream and chocolate ganaches, carefully cutting cranberry bark squares, funneling old fashioned non-pareils or warm buttery caramel with copper funnels, and piping fine decorative lines.  Visitors can even watch the staff hand-foil the Sweet Inspirations Scallop Shell chocolates, often led by Kathy’s mother who has a real talent for the tricky task.

John’s day begins at 5 am, when he does his prep work and schedules the day.  Patrons know to check the Hot Board in the back of the shop to find out what was just prepared or is about to be made.  He also uses this early morning time to prepare the ganaches and to experiment.  “John has a great palate,” said Kathy.  “It’s because my entire family loved food and loved to cook,” John explained.   Still popular early creations include the elegantly simple chocolate Nantucket Scallop Shells, Pecan and Caramel Islands, the original Cranberry Creationstm Chocolate Covered Cranberries, the Nancy Chase Nantucket Mint, and the extraordinary Cranberry Cheesecake hybrid truffle. 

Change of seasons, different celebrations, client requests and suggestions, their own travels, and staff from different corners of the world give John and Kathy a steady stream of inspiration to create fresh, new confections. 

Sweet Inspirations

“We’re like the league of nations in here,” said Kathy, “we have staff from all over.”  John added: “International chocolate inspirations include the memorable Bermuda Dark n' Stormy and Swedish Glugg Truffles.  Recent product developments with my team of Nantucket Chocolatiers have included the Cranberry Caramel with Sea Salt, the new Sea Mist Almonds, and of course our most famous artisan truffle, Coco the Chocolate Whale.”

There is just one flavor combination that John has not been able to perfect...yet!  Strawberry and Lemon Parfait Truffle...”This was a recipe that tasted good inside my head; I thought would be really interesting and unusual, but in reality my first efforts failed the WOW sophisticated taste goal.  I still think it will work, but I need more experimenting to perfect.  Don't be surprised!”  John does not give up easily and says “out of every failure comes a new idea.”

When asked about their personal favorites, John admitted to enjoying a dark chocolate covered pretzel with his morning coffee and Kathy goes for the dark chocolate with almonds or the caramel with sea salt.  They both often finish dinner with a dark chocolate almond medallion.

During the last 20 years, John and Kathy also created an extensive collection of unique limited edition gift tins by collaborating with local artist Barbara Capizzo and skilled American Tinsmiths.  These collectible tins make wonderful gift boxes and the retired editions are in high demand. 

Sweet Inspirations artisan chocolates have won numerous awards and recognitions, including features on the Food Networks Food Finds, Oprah's Best Gifts Show, and winning competitive awards on Nantucket, Cape Cod, and Boston.

With Sweet Inspirations, John and Kathy West have turned their creativity, work ethic, and tenacity into the sweet dream of a successful Nantucket business.  “Our goal,” explained John, “has always been to be one of the best on Nantucket. We love being here and connecting with people ... everything starts with customer service!  As long as we stay inspired, the sign will stay up—and we have a long list to explore!”

Sweet Inspirations is open daily at 26 Centre Street.  Web and phone order services bring Sweet Inspirations distant faithful friends a taste of their Nantucket home year-round.  508-228-5814  •


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