The candy man makes his mark in Big D
Photos: Courtesy Neuhaus Café
Mervyn Sacher and his daughter Andi Sacher love their Neuhaus Café customers.

Neuhaus owner celebrates 20 years at Preston Royal

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

Mervyn Sacher has had a lifelong affinity for chocolate. And as the owner of Neuhaus, the gourmet chocolate shoppe and café for decades, he has been the candy man. In fact, Sacher will dress up as Willy Wonka on Saturday, June 22, when Neuhaus celebrates 20 years in its Preston Royal location at the northwest corner of the intersection. It will be a day of fun, fanfare and customer appreciation.

Originally from South Africa, Sacher worked for his father-in-law, who had a large retail business. Its stores sold everything from groceries to clothing. Sacher worked his way up in the organization, starting out on the dock checking in deliveries and eventually working his way into being the candy buyer.

He had a love for chocolate and was inspired by a little storefront called Swiss Miss Café (not the hot cocoa company known in the United States) which sold chocolates and coffee drinks. It was the type of neighborhood place where people liked to stop by after a dinner out with friends.

“I became a director of this public company and I would have given it up to own that little candy store,” he said.

When his papers came through to move to America in 1975, Sacher thought to himself that this would be the perfect opportunity to fulfill his dream and open his own storefront called Swiss Miss Candy Store. He had worked with the largest chocolate manufacturer in South Africa and they were eager to do business.

He visited the States and shared his idea with a couple of friends. Sacher said that separately they put the kibosh on the idea.

“You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re a smart businessman, but you don’t know American business,” they told him.

He was advised to go get a job, learn the ropes and to forget about importing from South Africa.

As it turned out, their advice was fortunate. Two years later, there were sanctions on South Africa and Sacher said it would have been a disaster had he opened that store. “No goods would have been able to come in and I would have been in trouble,” he said.

In 1980, Sacher and his young family settled in Dallas, where his wife Linda’s sister and family already lived.

They had investigated several cities with vibrant South African communities. They loved San Diego, but ultimately they wanted to be near family.

Neuhaus chocolates are the centerpiece of the candy offerings at Neuhaus Café.

Sacher worked for Neiman Marcus in their executive training program at the downtown store. He was working in the ladies’ clothing buying department and wasn’t thrilled with the assignment. A colleague from Neiman’s epicure department came to see him. He suggested that Sacher should open a gourmet candy shop in Dallas because nobody else was doing it.

Sacher couldn’t believe it. Chocolate had surfaced again in his life.

He was moved to the candy buying department, where he met the Neuhaus chocolate importer. Shortly thereafter, Neiman’s changed from Neuhaus chocolates to a private label, Neiman’s Belgian Chocolates.

The opportunity presented itself and Sacher opened his first Neuhaus Chocolate store at NorthPark. That store had three tables and they served a cappuccino with a free piece of chocolate.

The business took off; in time Sacher had Neuhaus shops in The Galleria, Prestonwood Mall and Preston Hollow and the operators at the Galleria suggested they put some tables in the mall. They started serving sandwiches. The other locations wanted them to do the same.

The business hasn’t been without its trials and tribulations. Sacher said he doubled the size of the Prestonwood store and it was a mistake. “I did that one all wrong,” he said. He quickly sought a solution and was relieved when one of his employees, a former manager, wanted to buy him out to give the business to his children. Sacher agreed and sold the mall stores to the employee.

Working alongside Sacher is his daughter Andi. While in high school she worked at the Galleria store and hated it. She told her mother, “I’d rather dig ditches.”

Now she loves working side-by-side with her dad. She brings her creative flair and warmth to designing the packaging for all the chocolate and the displays. She loves being behind the counter.

Mervyn, on the other hand, loves being in “the front of the house” and mingling with customers making sure they are happy and satisfied.

He also loves the process of buying and selling his chocolates. Buying something at a good price and then creatively selling it well. “That’s the satisfaction,” Sacher said.

In addition to the chocolate, Neuhaus is a casual café that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The prices are reasonable, with most items less than $20. Andi and Mervyn differ on what their favorite sandwich is. Mervyn prefers the chicken sandwich with Greek salad on top. Andi said her favorite is the Reuben. The Sachers bring their corned beef in from New York, the same supplier as Katz’s Deli.

“A lot of people can’t finish the Reuben. It’s a hell of a meal,” Sacher said.

The Sachers are looking forward to Saturday. The candy man in particular can’t wait to celebrate. They are proud of what they’ve built and the loyal following they have nurtured.

“It’s a restaurant and a chocolate shop, but really, it’s a place for people to gather,” says Andi.

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