shop anniversary party THIS FRIDAY!

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Hello sweet teeth,

Well first of all. People keep asking us if we’re going to have the Savory Dinner Series this year. I’m so pleased that so many people liked the weird little meals I dreamed up. Unfortunately, much to my sadness, we bought some new equipment this year that takes up most of the space we need for the dinners, so we’re skipping the series this year, though we might try to squeeze in one dinner or so later in the summer.

Speaking of indulgences: this Friday, June 27, is our 3-year shop anniversary celebration, and I so hope you’ll come. 8 PM, at the shop, dress up if you’d like. There will be lots of nice drinks, chocolates, cake made by Maresa, and maybe even a savory nibble or two. It’s our annual thank-you to our amazing customers and nurturing community—that means you!

See you Friday!

 

Saying no (when you’ve decided to say yes.).

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It’s a slow time of year.

The shop is slow because the weather has been unbearable, and mail order is slow because there’s no chocolate-holiday happening right now.

It’s been wonderful.

Without the pressure of a looming holiday I have time to work on long-term projects, train new employees more thoroughly, have days off, make food that takes more than five minutes to prepare. Heaven.

Easter is gently winking at us, still a bit down the line, with the promise of busy hands making endless bunnies and peanut butter eggs and cream eggs and all that, which means bills being paid without even looking at the available balance and setting aside a little extra to pay off debt and maybe a nice treat night out in NYC, too. It’s a balanced life, in its unbalanced way, this one. Weeks of nonstop work followed by breathing. I’ve come to crave each cycle: the crush and the release.

We’re just going for it these days, saying yes to most things.

I used to think a lot about saying no.

I created this job to have a nice life, not to make a ton of money. I’m sure the former would lead somewhat to the latter, in some ways, but I don’t trust myself to find out. Better not to tempt it. I have a nice life now.

I can pay my student loans, my car’s paid off, my cats have food, so do Jacob & I, our mortgages for the house & the building the shop’s in will get paid down in time. Got a little credit card debt & some loans from some business expansion, but I’m paying it off fast.

If iI were the only person working at the shop, I’d keep things just where they’re at with the business forever. The capitalist decree to endlessly expand is sickening to me, seeing as It’s precisely what’s got our planet and so many of its inhabitants into such a pickle right now: ecosystem counting down the seconds until collapse, so many of us trapped by debt or obligation into unfulfilling jobs, leaning on developing nations to provide us with cheap commodities and services with built-in hidden costs that would break your heart fifty times over if we could see the realities of their production.

Endgame capitalism, nihilism writ large: not my thing.

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Because I started the business in order to live a good life, a life in line with these beliefs, it’s been tricky, at times, to decide when to say no to things. Making money is a game, and I can’t deny I like playing it. It’s about being smart: minimizing risk, working efficiently. Efficiency gives me deep pleasure. Finding ways to coax a profit out of a raw material that costs more than gold and takes endless hours of labor to create is a riddle I always enjoy solving. It’s hard not to jump at every opportunity we can to do so.

But, so far at least (who knows, maybe we’ll massively and spectacularly sell out tomorrow) my little anarchist ecofeminist ethics keep me in check most of the time. I’m thankful I have this little set of beliefs to fall back on, because otherwise we could have gone down all kinds of weird roads, and right now I like the road we’re on a lot.

But! Ah, there’s a but. But it’s slow. It’s March, it’s the month after our busiest month of the year, of course it’s slow. I’m fine with it, but what about the other eight people who work at Lagusta’s Luscious? They don’t have the insulating layer of February-cash to fall back on during these quiet periods. We expanded their hours a bit during Valentine’s, but not a ton, and when you’re in your twenties, as most of them are, you always always always need cash. Student loans are a killer, rents in New Paltz are ridiculous, always something. Pretty much everyone at the shop would be happy with more hours right now.

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And in the middle of all this, I went and hired two more people.

There were rumblings, yup.

They were right to rumble. It seemed unfair, because it was.

I tried to explain it: we can’t do what we did last December, which was to literally beg any friends walking by the shop to wash dishes or wrap boxes for us. Holidays will keep getting bigger whether or not we want them to (with luck), and we have to be more prepared. Pre-Valentine’s we were in this spot where literally no one could take a day off because no one could cover for them because everyone was already working every day. It was insane. So in order to be more prepared for the wild times that take over three times a year (December holidays, Valentine’s, Easter), we need to train new people now. What that means is more people working less hours—for now. And in the future: more people working more hours.

It sucks for them right now. But I don’t want to hire seasonal workers and then lay people off, that seems patently stupid for a business that needs such highly trained employees. We started the exhausting process of finding someone, and a weird thing happened: we interviewed some great candidates, and couldn’t decide between two people. So we hired both of them. And in the end everyone’s been super warm and welcoming to them and understanding of what I needed to do, which warms my heart and makes me love my team even more.

I feel so loyal to them, my little crew. I’m a loner. Solitude’s my thing. To have found people with which you can do meaningful work feels like winning some weird lottery you never wanted to enter. Strange, and really really nice.

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As I said, if it were up to me, I’d stop this ride. I’d keep doing what we’re doing, but no more. I’d say no to the huge wholesale orders that come in around the holidays when we’re already so pinched. I’d decline orders even from the celebrities! I’d go home at 7 when we close the shop every night and put up my feet and pet my cats and…well, it’s such a foreign concept to me I don’t even know what I’d do with my feet up. I’d regret it, probably, regret not playing the game a little more, seeing what I could do if I pushed myself more.

So, I’m thankful that I decided not to say no. Last fall we made a decision to expand the business a bit, and it feels good to have made the choice. One big reason I wanted to go for it, to take opportunities we’ve always seen on the horizon, was because of the people working at the shop.

We pay everyone hourly, and it just seems stupid. We’re selling a luxury product, and we talk such a big talk about paying the farmers who grow our cacao and whatnot a fair wage, and I’d like to be paying salaries to the women (and sweet Brendan!) who actually make our confections. We pay much better than most food businesses, particularly in this town, but why can’t we afford to have salaried workers, who have paid vacations and health care?

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And this is how the goalposts shift on you: you just want a business that fulfills you, and you work ten years to get it. Then you want a business that’s sustainable for the people who work with you, too. And that will be the focus of our next five or ten years: expanding the business enough to allow for salaried employees.

With this in mind, I’m in the mode of saying yes to things. It’s not hard: it’s nice to say yes. I like the big jobs, even when they’re tiring.

With all this swirling around me, I opened my email this afternoon to this:

Hi! I hope this email finds you well. I work for Free People, a women’s retailer based in Philadelphia and part of Urbn Inc. We had a lot of success selling vegan sweets on our website over the past Valentine’s day and Christmas holidays and I was looking for a way to develop a small concept for our website & a few stores for Easter. I love your chocolate bunny and would be super interested in buying them wholesale and/or private label. Hope to discuss this opportunity with you! Thanks so much, xxxx

And I just can’t say yes to this.

Free People is owned by Urban Outfitters, which is a store I don’t shop at for about a million reasons (#1 being that I am slowly converting my wardrobe to consisting solely of vintage 1940s denim coveralls, but still.).

The argument could be made that one should sell one’s ethically-produced goods in unsavory stores because people in those stores will then at least purchase one thing made in a responsible manner. This argument smacks of using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house, which is to say: it gives me a stomachache to think about our lil floppy-eared bun-buns sitting next to, say Navajo Hipster Panties. Which is to say: a new world isn’t built of bricks made in sweatshops bought at the mall.

On the other hand: on their website and in some stores? That’s some money right there, son. Money is nice! Money advances goals! Vintage coveralls are not cheap, people!

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But still.

No way.

So I wrote this:

Dear xxx,

Thank you so much for thinking of our products. I’m honored, but we can’t bear to work with a company owned by Urban Outfitters.

All of our chocolates are organic, fair-trade, and handmade, and we pride ourselves on our high ethical standards. I don’t personally shop at any stores owned by Urban Outfitters (though I have a great Free People dress I got at a thrift store I adore, sigh), so it wouldn’t feel right to have my chocolates sold there.

I’d love more information about the conditions under which the workers making your clothes work, because the consensus on the internet seems to be that they’re pretty much your typical sweatshop-made clothes.

Even more saddening is that so many of the clothes sold at Urban Outfitters further a troubling and problematic vision: from seeming to advance eating disorders and insensitive stereotypes to cultural appropriation (“Hipster Navajo Panties” etc.) to making clothing that only fits one type of body, it’s not a chain we want to align ourselves with.

Not to mention that over and over you have been shown to copy designs from smaller independent artisans, and that your founder has  given large donations to right-wing politicians like Rick Santorum, whose politics we’re not fans of.

I’d love to work with you on a bunny project, but sadly I just don’t think I could sleep at night.

All the best,

Lagusta

Saying yes—except when we need to say no. That’s where we’re at today.

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2013 highlights from the LL crew

Our 2012 round-up seems almost laughably quaint compared to the wildness that was 2013. I guess that’s good, right?

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We did a lot of amazing work this year. Here’s my rundown of highlights, and below are even better, more poetic, more personal ones from our crew:

  • Constant technical improvements. in 2013 we really committed ourselves to upping our game, technique-wise. We invested in new equipment and braved the many learning curves associated with it in order to make our products better for everyone. It was tough at times but I’m proud that we did it. Always improving! Or, meliora, as they say in Latin which may or may not have been my college’s motto which may or may not be the only reason I know it.
  • Packaging improvements! In 2013 we got custom thick cushiony pads to protect the chocolates snugly in their boxes, as well as custom shipping boxes. We’re working on transitioning all our packaging to earth-friendly chic kraft boxes, instead of standard white bakery boxes, bleached with dioxin and who knows what else. For a while our friendly local-ish box printing company didn’t offer a kraft box, and we basically pressured them until they did. Now we order thousands of them a year!
  • Selmi and Enrobi: by far the biggest change in our work life came from buying a new tempering machine and an enrober. More about that in February!
  • Those Hazelnut bars. They’ll be back, don’t worry.
  • Donations. I’m so proud that as our business has grown we have been able to support even more amazing groups and causes through chocolate. Here’s a partial list:

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  • Maresa’s macarons becoming the darling of the vegan food world.
  • When we learned that Lucy is a human thermometer, as described (twice) below.
  • When Brendan wowed us with tales of blown sugar, poured sugar, and sugar work flowers he’d made in pastry school.
  • When Samantha’s friends came in to visit her & she got all nervous (it was cute!).
  • When Marena took over shipping & organized our days so well.
  • When after nine years of helping me with logistics & not touching chocolates except to taste them, Jacob’s love for Selmi (read = reluctance to let anyone else use Selmi) turned him into the best mold-filler this shop has ever seen overnight (Selmi deserves a lot of that credit, though).
  • Kate’s Snack Seminar.
  • When Erin made all those candy cigarettes, which took over her life for a week since she was the only one who could make them so good.
  • And of course, CHOCOLATE CALISTHENICS!

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MARENA

Favorite thing I made: Well, I made a lot of boxes. I really like make boxes. Shipping boxes, caramel assortment boxes, truffle boxes, heathen toffee boxes…oh, the heathen toffee boxes… But there is really something beautiful about packing a Locavore truffle assortment into one of Maresa’s porcelain pints–pint, candy pad, truffles, candy pad, truffles, candy pad, cellophane, label, sticker, bow. What a lovely list of steps.
Favorite thing I ate: Staff salad breaks during the summer were pretty fantastic. And when you use a plant potter as a bowl you can make your staff salad deceivingly large. Lagusta made some yellow dressing, it was amazing. Actually that reminds me of the day she made onion rings. My heart grew three sizes that day.
Favorite moment: There was the time Brendan greeted someone who walked in and his voice cracked like he was 12. Lucy & I were out of sight from customers on the couch. She didn’t even need to hesitate, she immediately covered my mouth with her non-soup-holding hand to hide my hysterics while Brendan could see the whole thing happening. I laughed myself to tears for a good ten minutes. Little moments like that are my favorites. The night Jacob was jonesing for a vegan hot dog after Erin & I got some was pretty funny too.
I also really like whenever we get some new product or item in, or even if someone needs a recipe tasted, and we all get called in a circle to try it. When I first started at the shop I sort of kept quiet because I didn’t know anything, but now I feel confident expressing my ideas.
Favorite customers: There’s this dad that comes in with his young son every now and then. He’s got a Long Island accent and the kid runs around the shop reading all the labels on the products, talking a million miles an hour, and asks his dad if they can get it, and the dad always just screams “NO!”. Not in a mean way, more in a, “Someone please help me” way. It’s always pretty entertaining.
JACOB
- the new benches [made by Jacob!]

- Selmi x 2
- donuts [made by Tara, vegan, delivered to the shop every saturday!]
- creating the smores bar (toasting the marshmallow!)
- coffee trainings
- “the mangler”! [our new caramel cutter!]
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LUCY

My favorite moments at the shop aren’t ones I can pick out or describe well. They aren’t the biggest moments, or even the most inspiring. I have those—being let into the creative crazy world of our monthly dinners and the sleepless exhilarating accomplishment of every course; our staff trip to Bloodroot; the time I smelt the caramel cooking and knew it was the right temperature even though the thermometer was broken. Those moments are special to me, and I have cut them out of my heart to look at when I feel lost. But they aren’t my favorites.

My favorites are a string of background moments, of elbows touching at the sink and quiet tappings of truffle dippers on tempering machines. Conversations held in between putting away turtles and grinding almonds, goofy voices and hands on shoulders. Times when I felt simple and purposeful. The laughing looks that reminded me to be grateful of the women around me, of Jacob’s coffee obsession/concentration and Brendan’s binder of recipes. This was a year of being around people who wanted to create perfect beautiful things, and of realizing that I was truly one of them. I wouldn’t know how to explain the little flashes of joy and satisfaction threaded through every day, or the wonder of being so exhausted, frustrated and hollowed out at the end of the night. Those moments between tempering cycles and caramel batches that found us all sitting together on the couch eating a hodge podge of leftovers, singing along to a certain song, laughing at some silly joke for too long…I hope these are cemented in my brain forever.

I have felt the kind of love that I think you can only feel for the people that work alongside you–the kind of pushing support of knowing you are all committed to something larger than yourself. Those passing winks, gentle teases, Monster Mash dance parties, little victories and group struggles held me strong while I learned who I wanted to become and what I wanted to feel towards the world. So I guess what I really want to say is Thank You. Thank you Lagusta, Jacob, Maresa, Kate, Erin, Marena, Brendan, Jayme, and Dawn for all the little kindnesses you have shown me while doing this work next to me. Thank you for giving me a place to soften into my own skin.

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SAMANTHA, our lovely high-school intern-turned-actual part-timer!

Making drinking chocolates

Making millions of caramel assortment boxes

The satisfaction of making the perfect size candy pad just by eyeballing it
Trying to make Gelt bags as fast as people were ordering them
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KATE
the year was 2013 and the highlights were thick and if I could list absolutely everything on earth, I would. when the caramel thermometer broke and Lucy finished a batch of apple caramels perfectly just through the smell of it, alone. every time Erin managed to back off an impressive number of molds with almost no chocolate left in the tempering machine: complete perfect efficiency. when Maresa sprinted a package to the post office one minute before they closed. I told her “you’re insane” and I meant it & she just smiled, said her trademark “see ya” as she dashed out the door. when maresa and i would have “new wave wednesdays” and she knew what my favorite new order song was and joined in my constant elation. when jacob makes coffee when jacob talks about coffee when we get to drink coffee, side by side, when jacob became a selmi chocolatier, high standards, beautiful molds. when brendan talked about how much he loves tie dye, when brendan is unafraid of the robot coupe blade. when Marena and I got 67 packages shipped out in one day and the post office cried but we felt completely invincible, walking on air. when Lagusta talked about watermelons for an hour straight when Lagusta made any sort of food when Lagusta could not tell the difference between a lion and a tiger, her endless pursuit of not wasting absolutely anything. when lucy and i worked late on halloween, spiderman and a candy cane cupping anatomical heart chocolates, dancing to the monster mash, playing it over and over. when we would go outside to stare at the moon. when we all were so mice to each other. every macaron i ate, every macaron maresa made. every muppet babies parody, the shop iguana [i.e. the sugar work heat lamp]. when everyone indulged my snack seminar. when I started working, I didn’t know anything. i asked those questions that seem so silly now: “how do you know if chocolate is out of temper,” “how do you dip a truffle,” “how do you know if your caramel is exactly ready,” and the answer is usually: you look, you feel, it becomes instinct. I remember the day I just realized I was doing it all and not feeling nervous about it. the pride in the small things. it always feels like sugar magic and I do feel like a sugar wizard sometimes, my wand in my apron pocket, a line of us at the beginning of the day, gathered up, divvying up tasks, casting the spells, making all of the things. if I could list absolutely everything on earth, I would.

2012 Highlights (from the entire Lagusta’s Luscious crew!)

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Here’s how my little chocolate business has gone:

In 2003 Jacob and I started making truffles for family gifts, inspired, like all good things are inspired, by an article in Martha Stewart Living. I didn’t know what on earth I was doing.

In 2004 everyone we gave the truffles to in 2003 wanted more of them. And I saw that this was a little hole in the vegan marketplace, so I decided to start selling them on the internet. I made them once a month, in-between cooking for the meal delivery service I ran, and kept a little email mailing list I’d announce the shipment on. People would email me back to order, I would send them a PayPal invoice, and off their chocolates would go.

Things went pretty much like this until 2010. Over the years we got a website, a fancier ordering system, and a bunch more customers (not just friends). I made chocolates once a week, not once a month. It was nice. The chocolate holidays (Christmas, Easter, and, of course, V-day) slammed me, made it difficult to get my cooking work done and difficult to sleep. The chocolate side of things was growing, without me feeding it. (The meal delivery would have been growing too, but it was so exhausting that I kept it to 20 clients or less so I could manage it and have a reasonable life, too.)

In 2010 I decided to shut down the meal delivery service and focus on a sweeter life, with less onions to peel and less pots to scrub.

Here’s the difference, dish-wise, between the two jobs:

  • Meal delivery dishes took hours of scrubbing giant pots, leaving you with oniony, wrinkly hands and exhausted arms. 
  • Chocolate dishes can go right into the dishwasher with no scrubbing, and make the entire kitchen smell like hot chocolate.

Looking back, the choice was easy.

In 2011 we scraped up our pennies and borrowed pennies from wherever we could and bought the building. It was an 11-month-long odyssey, my friends (buying a building in foreclosure with almost no money—patient persistence is necessary, and since I am the most impatient person in the world, it was constantly tough for me. Thankfully, Jacob is amazing at smooth-talking banks and having patience, so while I was ranting and renting my garments with stress, he was cooly Making It Happen. It’s all detailed here, along with some TMIness about my own internal state at the time.)

Then began the renovation process (detailed rather haphazardly here). The word “renovation” still fills my heart with a cold chill. Oh, the months!

OH, THE MONEY! The delays, the work, the schlepping, the buying, the designing!

It was so much work.

(Was it worth it? Every night when I switch off the lights and lock the door [yes sometimes it's technically morning when that's happening, but still], I take a moment to look at the shop and get the same frisson of pleasure that I got the first day we opened. Opening the shop is my favorite thing I’ve ever done, and I love it every single day.)

We finally opened on June 28, 2011. (Jacob’s birthday! He was on tour in Europe at the time, and I sent him a photo of the shop and told him that instead of any presents [I was a little busy and a lot cash-strapped at the time, OK?], I got him a chocolate shop.)

It was fun from the start.

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2012 was our first full year of being open, and it brought lots of changes in our Luscious little world. Here’s a rundown of the biggest ones:

  • 2012 was the year we went from being a micro-business to a small business.
  • It’s the year I had to learn how to be imperfect in front of other people, too. 

The biggest change in my personal work world was how many more people I work with on a day-to-day basis.

As late as June of this year I was still clawing on to Solitude Sundays (what I always called them in my head) where I worked alone. Alone! It was super tough, yes (every time we had a party of five who all ordered Drinking Chocolates, I’d set a new record for how fast one person can stir ganache into hot almond milk, top it with almond whip, marshies, and cinnamon, pour it into a cup, put a lid on it, and get it to them), but I loved having a day all by myself at the shop, so quiet and still in the back of the house.

I could use all the space, live completely in my head, work on secret formless projects I didn’t have to chat about to anyone until they were more complete, nailed-down, ready to be tasted. Sometimes things like Thyme, Preserved-Lemon and Sea Salt Caramel need a little marinating time in one’s own head before they’re ready to be trotted out for a tasting. I’m like that (I used to be like that?)—I want things to be perfect before anyone sees them.

I’ll never go back to Solitude Sundays, I know that.

That’s a good thing, but it’s a little bittersweet, too. Change is good, Lagusta! Moving forward is good!

Now I work more collaboratively, and it’s one of the most exhilarating processes I’ve ever participated in. I’m continually blown away by the brilliant ideas of the women I work with, how they help me solve problems and come up with amazing new ideas. If I don’t have an idea down perfectly, I know I can bring it to them and they’ll help me make it better.

It’s terrifying not to perfect things before I show them to other people, but I’m getting better at it.

Around August, we ramped up like crazy for the chocolate season ahead. It’s good that we did. We needed every body we could cram in those 1000 square feet. And I LOVE the amazing women we hired. Still, it’s been a major shift for me in the way I always figured the shop would run. It’s so strange to me when an order, or even a Drinking Chocolate, goes to a customer and I didn’t have a hand in any of it—I didn’t make the ganache or fold the boxes or dip the truffles or even ship out the package. (I started doing this thing where I write “Enjoy! XO, L” on all the packages I ship out, like I’m a fancy person, like people should be excited to get packages from the great Lagusta herself!! Oy!)

All this is strange.

I know in the scheme of things we are still a very, very small business, and always will be, no matter how much we grow. But I always thought we’d be a micro business. Just me, with Maresa helping out when she wasn’t making cupcakes and cakes.  And it went like that for a long time—I’ve been unable to get rid of Maresa since the day 5 or so years ago when she showed up at my old kitchen in Rosendale and said she’d work for free. Now I’d pay her anything she asked because she’s not only the sister I never had, but also so essential to the business that I sometimes wake up from nightmares where she went on a short vacation (really though, Reesey, you should take more days off!). We’ve had other people working on the shop since it opened, but never more than 3 of us at a time. From when the Oprah thing came out (keep reading!) in November until we went to Hawaii we were averaging 5 people a day working in the shop, and there were a few days when I looked up and we’d crammed SEVEN PEOPLE, each working with elbows tucked in their little stations, stirring flavorings into ganache or checking the temperature of caramel.

Unbelievable.

  • The finishing of the façade.

This article came out about Chocolate in the Hudson Valley in the early part of 2012 in one of our the fine local alt-weeklies.  It mentioned all the chocolate shops in the HV except us. Our customers kept coming in and saying “Why didn’t they mention you???”

Everyone working in the shop was kind of outraged.

Secretly (ok, maybe not so secretly), I was pleased as punch. Do you know what this means? I kept saying to the little crew. We’re still an underground business!! 

The publisher of the magazine, however, happens to be a regular shop customer. One day he came in and apologized profusely about the omission. He didn’t happen to see the article before it went to press, otherwise he would have made sure they covered us. He promised some press to come to make up for the oversight.

I was honored, of course, but also a little rueful.

Being an underground business REALLY pleased me.

If it were up to me, we wouldn’t even have a sign on the door. I had this idea that we’d be a secret around town that you had to know someone to find. You’d open this unmarked, plain teal door and walk into a wild chocolate wonderland. How cool would that be?

As everyone reminded me, banks need mortgage payments in exchange for the building, and utility companies need money in exchange for power to power tempering machines. And student loans from a certain someone with a double major in English and Women’s Studies (oh, and the French minor) still has student loans to pay. So, concessions needed to be made.

Our friend Molly made our amazing sign. I liked it. Most particularly, I liked that it didn’t tell what we sold. Keeping the mystery!

In time though, everyone else got REALLY tired of saying, “We’re a chocolate shop!” to people who popped in just to ask what the crap it was that we sold.

So. Over my objections, we got these fancy letters for the front of the building. I got to pick out the font, and I picked Futura, so we could seem as much like we were living inside a Wes Anderson movie as possible.

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Speaking of the chocolate letters:

  • I made this really cool banner for the website. 

Maybe it’s not a year highlight to you, but to me, who manages to screw up the website majorly every time she touches it, who has pretty much been taken off website duty by Erin and Jacob, who are constantly tinkering and improving and fixing and perfecting, being able to make and upload the rotating banners on the top of the page was sort of a minor miracle.

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How Wes Anderson-y does it look??

  • I created the hardest, bestest recipe of all time. 

Oh, Peanut Butter Toffee Crunch Bars! Your butterfingery devils, you. How we love to hate you. 

  • Pate de Fruits.

I love these little gems. Finally making them after years of wanting to was so satisfying. The cantaloupe was my favorite, but I loved them all.

  • Ice cream. 

I LOVED making ice cream this summer (and milkshakes!). And we’ve got so many fun summery plans for cold treats to come, I can’t wait to share ‘em…

  • Ridding the shop of corn syrup

I’m so proud of our Innovation of the Year: homemade organic cane syrup to replace corn syrup!

  • Flowers. 

Candied homegrown flower tablets. Sigh. My heart is bursting.

  • Molly’s window project

Our resident genius artist, Molly Rausch of Postage Stamp Paintings, painted our windows so beautifully, I don’t think we’ll ever take it down.

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  • Oprah Magazine + press

I guess I should stop with things that were important in my personal soul and all that and get on to the actual tangible markers of the year.

One of those was that we got some mega press.

We were in a bunch of local magazines and papers, and that 1/4 page mention in Oprah magazine sure raised our profile quite a bit. From when the magazine came out until the end of the year, we were solidly slammed with orders.

  • Donations

Not being so terrified that we weren’t going to make mortgage payments every month has meant that we can afford to do more donations!

I knew there was a reason why being a bigger business was good—this is one of the major reasons.

As someone who always figured she’d be a penniless activist for a “living,” doing good is a huge part of our mission at the shop. Nothing feels better than being able to support the groups, people, and work we believe in. Here’s a partial list of donations we did in 2012:

  • The wildest Halloween ever.

There were so many sad events in the wider world this year. They’re beyond the scope of this blog post, but it’s crushing to remember them.

Hurricane Sandy was responsible for the cancellation of the Google NYC Halloween party, for which the Google folks had ordered hundreds of chocolates from us. They said we should give the chocolates out to New Paltz trick or treaters, which meant we had the craziest, most fun (in spite of the Sandy sadness living in our hearts) Halloween ever in the shop, which was crammed with people for hours and hours—long after the chocolate ran out, actually. My oh my does word spread fast in this town.

  • The dough sheeter!

We bought a dough sheeter, thus ending 10 months of a croissant desert that we (me!) barely survived. Croissants are back forever, woo!

The most fun and the most work I’ve had in a long time (which is saying a lot—I have a lot of fun and work a ton on the regular). I hope it continues forever. We did two dinners last year (you can see millions of photos of ‘em at the link above), this year I’m hoping to do one a month March-October.

  • Partnership with Tuthillltown Spirits

Tuthilltown has quickly become a household name in the Hudson Valley as well as the country (the world, maybe?) for well-crafted whiskies and more. We were honored when they asked if we wanted to partner up on a special chocolate to be sold in their distillery shop. Our Four-Grain Bourbon Caramel Chile Bars are one of our best-sellers, and it’s always so nice to meet people who found us from a bar they tasted at the distillery.

The whiskey is delicious on its own, too, which is nice for a whiskey drinker like me. Manhattans (and chocolate!) for all!

I asked everyone who works at the shop for their best-ofs, too:

  • DawnMarie: Unlike everyone else, is probably out having fun and not immediately responding to emails, so I’ll update this post with her best-ofs when I get ‘em. (I’m hoping one of her favorites will be that crazy day she wrapped ten zillion bars…)
  • Favorite thing to make:
    Sundaes in the summer!  Especially with gooseberries on top. (Customer-”you mean the ice cream, marshmallows, AND whip are all vegan? *face lights up*)
  • Favorite thing I ate:
    Chocolate- ginger orange blossom truffle
    Cupcake- pistachio & rosewater
    Savory- latkas with sour cream & apple sauce!
    Drink- lavender lemonade
  • Highlights:
    -Learning from and working with empowering, progressive, and witty women. Plus Jacob!
    -Actually being able to eat anything in the shop without worry of the ingredients.
    -Listening to good music all day
    -Maresa’s cake scraps!
    -Lagusta’s training nights & whatever she cooks for us.
  • Favorite moments:
    I was having just your typical case of the rainy-pms-ing-monday-finals week-blues. My day turned around when I walked into work and my senior recital was being played as the shop’s music. What a supportive, loving feeling. And then I got to make chocolate all day. Chocolate shop therapy at its finest.
  • During one of our busy days, I messed up and used black rasberries instead of red rasberries for a recipe and I already added in the balsamic syrup. I felt awful even telling L since we were pressed for time but  she didn’t even break a sweat. She just looked at it and went, “don’t worry- I’ve got an idea!” And just like that she made a tangy, fruity, amazing truffle out of my mistake- with black rasberries, balsamic syrup, lemon, lime, and strawberry that the customers all loved! Lesson learned: when life gives you lemons, make a new chocolate.
  • Jayme: 
  • Favorite thing I made: Holler Mountain bark. The first thing I made from start to finish. :)
  • Favorite thing I ate: Pear, clover, & brown sugar cupcake.
  • Beet coriander truffle!
  • Highlights: when Non vegans walk in and are surprised & impressed that we are a cruelty free/Vegan shop. When vegans realize they can have ANYTHING they want! Putting bows on a zillion barks.

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  • Eating any food that Lagusta makes us (awww). Learning some real knife skills. Being able to work in an amazing, caring, human/animal/environmentally conscious environment.
  • Favorite Moments: Working from 10a-730p with Maresa & Lucy without sitting down once and then enjoying a Taco Shack feast before finishing up the last 3 hours of work.
  • Erin:
  • Dipping truffles. (LY note: Erin is really great at dipping truffles!)
  • Making ganache start to finish is pretty fulfilling- from the recipe, to flavoring, piping, rolling, dipping, decorating…
  • Favorite moment was the night we all did yoga together, talking about our favorite poses. (very inflexible LY note: THIS WAS MY LEAST FAVORITE MOMENT.)
  • Favorite eating was shiitake sea salt truffle, RSSC (Rosemary Sea Salt Caramels, natch), and turtles- and mac and cheese! (LY note: I like making snacks for the crew!)
  • Funniest was when I called her “teal nail girl.” (LY note: Maresa and I almost hired her right off the bat because her nails matched our logo. [Even though you're not allowed to paint your nails in a food service environment. But this was just at the interview, so it was OK.])
  • Fave customers- maeve and julian :)
  • Fave times- when vegans come in expecting one or two vegan things and get SUPER EXCITED when they fing out every last thing is vegan. (LY note: this is my fave time too.)
  • Jacob:
  • STUMPTOWN! And indulging in a coffee obsession and taking it to unforseen heights.
  • Maresa’s macarons!
  • Sweet Pea Green Tea chocos.
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  • Lucy:
  • Turtles. (Lucy is our turtle expert, for sure.)
  • I loved learning how to make caramels.
  • Christmas rush. in the middle of it, I realized how much all of us has learned and how we could just bang it all out and do a good job.
  • Favorite eating was pickle tempura, and chocolate lemon confit caramel.
  • Fave customers- any shy old men. and the Smylies. also, the guy who gets gifts for his girlfriend “just because he loves her” and is always really polite.
  • BOTH Erin and Lucy loved the chocolate tasting night!
  • Maresa:
  • Favorite eating: every last bite of the savory dinner (LY note: Maresa came as a diner! It was so great to cook for her.). and, apple caramels. and maui macadamia cream.
  • Successfully making pb bars in less than one day (this happened once. it’ll go down in history like rudolph).
  • Favorite customer: susan blickstein, who was with us through our coffee evolution, and would always give the lowdown on town-happenings.
  • Favorite moment: sitting on the bench with L, eating pistachio ice cream, and comparing legs. also, realizing that our gals are totally the best ever. (LY note: this is my favorite moment, too.)
  • Jeeeze, there’s a lot more!

Fun events, amazing customers (truly, amazing), delicious tempeh, our anniversary party, so many delicious chocolates (cream eggs!), wrapping paper with yours truly’s mug on it, the back room renovations, PARIS, that crazy cute caramel apple I made!

But this is getting too long, and I’ve got to start my New Year’s Eve dinner preparations.

If you have Lagusta’s Luscious-related highlights to share in the comments (or on Facebook or Twitter), I’d be honored.

Mother’s Day

First: if you want a daily dose of chocolate gorgeousness and general Lagusta’s Luscious TMI, Facebook is really the place for you. Or Twitter, if that’s how you roll.

Nextly: Mother’s Day is coming up. I wanted to take a moment to inform/remind/enlighten you to the fact that we make an entire line of chocolates named for the womens, including one named for my very own mom, one Pauline Benjamin Dubkin-Yearwood, that being Peanut Butter Cups (get it? PB!).

Moving along: Did you see this insanely lovely blog post about us? No, Well, go forth, then.

And finally: this very Sunday we will be at the New Paltz Regatta selling gorgeous hand-painted (and handmade, if you want to get particular about it) chocolate ducks to raise money for our local food pantry, Family of New Paltz. Every year hundreds of rubber ducks are raced in the Wallkill River to raise money for Family (personally this doesn’t seem super duper earth-friendly, but I’m told scrupulous care is taken to remove them all [but then where do they go?]), so that’s why we’re making ducks. 50% of the sales of each duckie will go straight to Family, so come on out!

Onward.

Yours,

Lagusta Pauline*

*You’re right that Jews aren’t supposed to be named for living people, and that my lovely mom is still very much living. Tell that to my goyishe dad!

BEHOLD!!!!!!

Oh my darlings.

SO much happened yesterday, what with me signing my name seemingly hundreds of times and then watching congratulations roll in on my own Facebook page and the Bonbons page, that I forgot to update the this here blog with THE BIG NEWS!

SO BIG!

Are you ready?

After 11 months of finagling, my sweetheart and I just closed on this fine wreck of a building in New Paltz! Just 15 minutes by bike from my house (three by car), this sad sack sweetheart needs some TLC, but around the end of May or so you’re cordially invited to the grand opening of the new LL HQ! It’s going to be our fabulous fabrication space plus a tiny little candy counter/chocolate shop, with maybe some savories sprinkled in too (homemade tempeh? croissants? maybe! maybe!).

(Buying the building was a real ordeal. If you want to read 3,000 words about my external and external struggles with it, here they are!)

I’ll be blogging a bit about the renovation process so you can share my joy/frustration/aggravation, too. Lots of before and after photos coming soon…

Take a deep breath! As my old Australian housemate, a male model named Peter with the bluest eyes and sweetest soul you’ve ever seen, used to say, “IT’S ALL HAPPENING, LG!” (he called me LG. Australians and their nicknames, you know?)

Yeah!

kitchen for rent!

To be frank: electricity and propane bills at the kitchen (and, for that matter, at my house) are eating me alive. And since I’m only doing chocolates these days and not the meal delivery as well, I’m not at work every day (yay!). So, I’m looking to share my kitchen 1-3 days a week with a like-minded business. If you know anyone, please pass this info along. Contact me at chef@lagustasluscious.com if you’re interested!

The kitchen details:

  • The kitchen is in Rosendale, NY, on route 32.
  • It consists of one large room, one office, one bathroom, and one back room for storage.
  • Ample parking
  • The kitchen is fully licensed with the NYS Ag and Markets department (it’s licensed under my business though).
  • Two a/c units
  • Wall propane heating unit
  • Three ovens, one a super sweet pizza oven
  • Four gas burners
  • Dishwasher and three-sink
  • Pots and pans, bowls and all kinds of utensils you can use.
  • Vita-mix blender, Cuisinart, standing mixer, all kinds of machines.
  • Food storage containers large and small
  • Walk-in fridge with speed rack with pans
  • Three freezers
  • Wifi
  • Butcher block cutting board table
  • Full fire suppression system
  • 100% eco-friendly cleaning supplies

I am:

  • Neat and tidy! Everything in its place, a place for everything.
  • Flexible with my schedule–hooray for working for myself! I try to take Sundays off.
  • Entirely vegan, as is the kitchen.

You are:

  • Neat and tidy! Everything in its place, a place for everything.
  • Looking to rent a kitchen for 1-3 days a week. Days are flexible, but Sunday would be ideal.
  • Run a vegan or vegetarian food business.

Rent: $75 per 24 hours.

So cheap!!

Interested? Contact me at chef@lagustasluscious.com.