LOS LUNAS — Teri Leahigh, owner of Teri’s Sweet Garden, will tell you it has not been easy, but running her business has delicious rewards.

Jesse Jones | News-Bulletin photo
Teri Leahigh and employee Claire Hopper stand in front of candied apples inside Teri’s Sweet Garden.

From the time she was young, candy and sweets have always been important to Leahigh and her family. She learned how to cook sweets from her grandmother, and knew from a young age she would open a candy store.

“I would open up a candy store so [her father] would not have to buy his own candy again,” Leahigh said. “I would make it for him. Unfortunately, he passed away right before we opened. So, we took the inheritance and we opened it in his honor.”

With some encouragement from her husband and help from their children, Leahigh pushed through some challenging times.

For any aspiring or new business owners, Leahigh says, “Stay with it! Do whatever it takes to make it. If that’s your passion, you keep going because eventually it will work.”

Leahigh said there was a learning curve and mistakes were made. The biggest mistake, Leahigh says, was not having a qualified tax accountant. She promptly fixed that mistake, but says it was the “biggest, scariest thing” they had to deal with.

Nowadays, the candy shop has been doing well and they have won Best Place to Get a Sweet Treat four consecutive times in the Best of Valencia County contest in the Valencia County News-Bulletin.

Leahigh mostly contributes the candy shop’s consecutive wins to its regular customers, but thinks the sponsorships and fundraising projects they do for the community help people remember them.

Teri’s Sweet Garden helps the local school students with fundraising. They will sell lollipops to schools at very discounted rates so the school can turn around and sell them to make a profit.

Leahigh wants to keep growing her business and hopes to open another store in Albuquerque someday.

She loves to experiment with candy.

“We put some crazy things together,” says Leahigh.

Walking into the quaint store, you can see why the shop’s website states that, “Your imagination is our specialty.”

About a year or so after the shop opened, a woman asked them to make chocolate-covered hot Cheetos.

“I thought that has got to be the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard,” Leahigh said. “But she wants it and she’s going to pay for it, so I made it.”

She added red chile flakes on top to kick up the heat level and it turned out to be one of the shop’s best-selling items.

Speaking of turning up the heat. Teri’s Sweet Garden spices up pickles and olives under the brand name Wild West Pickles. The pickles and the olives are chile flavored to satisfy almost any spice enthusiast that is looking for something different.

Wild West Pickles have placed in the top three in the National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Shows’ Scovie Awards in the last few years.

If spice is not your thing, worry not, they also make tart and sour pickles as well. Inspired by a customer from the Pueblo of Isleta, who suggested they put the pickles in Kool-Aid, they offer flavors like sour green apple and berry lemonade.

You can stop by Teri’s Sweet Garden at 120 Main St. NW,  Los Lunas. The hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Wednesday through Friday; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. They are closed Sunday through Tuesday.

For more information, call 505-865-5834, or visit terisweetgarden.com.

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Jesse Jones lives in Albuquerque with his wife and son. Jesse graduated from of the University of New Mexico twice. This spring, he graduated with a degree in multimedia journalism and, in 2006, he received a bachelor’s degree in university studies with an emphasis in photojournalism. He is a current fellow of the New Mexico Local News Fund.