Sitting here in the cozy shop on the last day of the year, I feel so warm. This sweet year of my little made-up business is enveloping me, a cocoon of all the work we put in and all the chocolates we put out, everything we learned and threw ourselves into.
We didn’t get any huge press this year, like other years.
We didn’t move into a bigger facility or take on any giant-leap-forward loans, like other years.
We just put one foot in front of another.
It felt so good.
Before I get to the highlights from our crew, here are my own little triumphs and victories:
- In 2014 I continued my focus on improving our products through constant experimentation, learning new techniques and acquiring new equipment to help us work as efficiently as possible. I’m very proud to never skimp on equipment or tools. It’s not glamorous or that interesting to most, but I feel that a lot of successful businesses coast after a while, and I’m determined to keep teaching myself how to improve so that I can teach our crew how to improve—and I’m determined to listen to our crew, and to learn from them, too.
- The best thing I invented all year is the Turtle Bar (since I invented the Hazelnut Bar in 2013). That Polenta Caramel Bar was a pretty close second, though.
- I made a really ridiculously good marzipan-strawberry ice cream for milkshakes, too. Oh, summer!
- I reworked two of our standards, the Pig Out Bar and the Bourbon Chile Bar. The new bars have a smoother texture and a better flavor.
- Our field trip to Bloodroot, my ancestral cookin-home.
- A long-time goal of mine realized: the Socialist Sliding Scale Soup Special. I love cooking just about more than anything, and to be able to cook nourishing food for our customers is great.
- MARESA’S ECLAIRS! OMG OMG OMG OMG. Best thing I tasted all year. Vegan eclairs!
- I’m also proud of what we turned down: an opportunity to sell our products at Urban Outfitters. Here’s why.
- Our three-year anniversary party.
- A little bit about us in the wonderful new book The Vegetarian Flavor Bible.
- Four seasons of Chocolate Calisthenics!
- Donations. Here is a partial list of places we donated to in 2014:
- We continue to give shop-discounts to members of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and Catskill Animal Sanctuary, in addition to donating gift certificates to their events and cash donations when possible.
- The Rosendale Theatre Collective
- Elting Memorial Library
- High Meadow School
- Historic Huguenot Street
- CARE, the animal shelter my mother volunteered for in Chicago.
- The Humane League
- The Animal Rights Coalition, Minneapolis
- Colorado LGBTQ Anti-Violence Program
- Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine
- Beagle Freedom Project
- SASHA Farm Animal Rescue
- 10th Anniversary of New Paltz Same Sex Marriages party
- Garden Cafe on the Green
- Unmarried Equality
- The Cinnamon Snail
- Definitely our shop baby, Henry, was an exciting development. Nothing brightens a work day like a baby hanging out on the break room couch!
- In October Jacob and I drove from Seatte to LA and visited every chocolatier, chocolate-maker, and chocolate shop we could find along the way. Meeting so many awesome people who’ve also devoted their lives to theobroma cacao was an intense and special experience, and we came back with a notebook full of ideas and inspiration—not to mention lots of new tastes to taste in staff meetings.
- The Violet Caramel, who will be reappearing in our Valentine’s specials in 2015, was a special favorite with customers—and me.
- Our special new guide posters with drawings by Alexis, words by me, and layout by Kate were so nice to work on, and they are such a useful guide to what is in their assorted chocolate boxes. And new packaging! I bet Jacob will talk about that.
- Getting an award by the local Preservation Society recognizing the renovations we’ve done to our building.
- Breakfast Soup! Not really a work thing, but whatever!
- Making a chocolate based on burnt toast, who knew!
- Buying everyone on the staff treats to celebrate being the top-rated food business (non-restaurant) in New Paltz on Yelp and writing a big mushy letter to everyone about how I’m so proud of them.
- New hires! Brenna, Adrienne, Shana, and our holiday helpers Liz, Alexandra, and Jenna. Truly an amazing crew I feel so lucky to work with.
- I had a lot of fun messing around with calligraphy projects for the shop.
- Shop birthday parties!
- Making our Yuzu Creams with fresh yuzu instead of bottled juice.
- Alexis’ shop jack-o-lanterns
- Latke Bonbons!
- Having a job where I can enact my values on a daily basis never gets old.
Onward to the staff highlights:
Perfect whip! + new amazing bourbon bar + turtle bar + white choco wizard Adrienne! ]\
(Alexis gets right to the point!)
Lorde mornings (every morning); being an advocate/greatest fan/semi-official maker of the maple honeycomb; learning shipping stuff and being less and less afraid of boxes and clear tape and packing peanuts; the time I got halfway through making honeycomb before realizing I was doing it from memory; deciding I should not be afraid of jacob and maresa even though for many months I was afraid of jacob and maresa; understanding selmi so well it became kind of hard to explain selmi to new peeps; the most amazing 22nd birthday party ever with cat-fancy decorations and a coconut-cat cake (and jeopardy! questions like “are men inherently evil?”); chocolate calisthenics when we did jump rope inside a jump rope; the sheer disbelief of everyday the week before christmas when it seemed literally impossible that we had to make that thing AGAIN; just listening to the crazy wonderful stories from all the crazy wonderful people in the shop. 🙂
Oh man, did 2014 come and go as quick as ganache can set up and screw
you and your truffles over. I graduated college in May and was
bombarded by sadness that my carefree days of youth had come to an
end. Although a handful of my closest buds were leaving town too many
were staying and my heart was still deep in New Paltz even after
having travelled across the country, checking everything out. I truly
didn’t know how long I would stick around but I was a tour guide at
the Catskill Animal Sanctuary and going there once a week made me the
happiest ever, so I knew there was a rhyme and reason for me to stay
in the beauteous Hudson Valley. Come June I started working at
Lagusta’s Luscious and my attitude transformed. I had been desperate
to be surrounded by creative like-minded people, and here they all
were. Just making vegan chocolate in this pretty colorful building
tucked away in New Paltz. Learning was a little tough at times,
knowing how many caramels would be ruined if you let the temperature
get too high or if you agitated it too much, getting up close and
personal with the wondrous Selmi was also slightly worrying but never
were we ridiculed for not being perfect. This made getting deep into
the surprisingly scientific world of chocolate so utterly satisfying.
An over-arching highlight of the past 6 months at the shop would
really just be feeling comfortable making all of these tasty tasty
things that you really could only dream of having access to all the
time (especially as a vegan). Understanding the waves and dynamic of
Selmi, it being okay for you to yell across the room if your caramel
needs spreading and being about to give creative input. That is
something rare at a job. Lagusta makes us all feel like our knowledge
is appreciated and necessary in every new chocolate endeavor whether
it be changing the size of a bar or deciding how to garnish the most
delicate beautiful pieces of chocolate. Another huge highlight for me,
was learning that in Jacob’s yester-years, he was a devout phish fan,
as I currently am. From here on out I was forward with my unhealthy
obsession of this band and never felt judged even though I know
everyone thinks I’m kind of crazy. Another highlight happened a few
days ago, Kate made me VEGAN PHISH FOOD ICE CREAM. Highlight of the
year, as well as my life. Endless highlights in this happy lil’ shop.
I have no doubt that 2015 will just bring out more creativity, laughs
and sweetness. Happy New Year!!!
This year was so strange for me because I wasn’t in the shop as much as I normally was. Being pregnant and then being on leave the last two months have made my view of the shop and our crew slightly different than it was. So I think my favorite thing about this year has to be watching so many new people get hired, and see them grow and blossom into such incredible workers. Every time I came in to visit this holiday season (with little Henry on tow), I was completely blown away by how smooth and collected all these women were. It felt like such a beautiful well oiled machine, and I was so honored to be part of their team. I guess it is strange that my favorite moment wasn’t a moment I was part of, but I was just so proud. Here’s to another year!
It’s hard to pick just a few highlights from this year because there are so many, but I think one of my favorites, and one that is the most telling about the realities of this lovely little shop, was our secret santa exchange. In the weeks leading up to it, there was the occasional reminiscing about previous jobs and secret santas gone awry. No one had seemed to have a positive experience with it in the past. However, there was always a hope that this one would be different, that this special group of people would be able to pull it off.
When the time came, and one by one we all revealed our gifts, it was clear that we had been right to have such high hopes. There was so much thought and warmth and humor that went into each and every gift. Shana gave Brenna a beautiful feminist coloring book, Brenna gave Alexis homemade rosemary simple syrup and vodka for one of her favorite drinks, Alexis made (made!) the most beautiful clay mug for Jacob, Jacob got Maresa a Pedro (from Napoleon Dynamite) costume. I could go on, but trust me, there was no gift that was given without a tremendous amount of care.
I think this shows what can happen when a place is not just a workplace, but something far more than that. While our hands are busy making chocolates and caramels and fillings, we take the time to get to know the incredible people that surround us. We are all so lucky to be right where we are.
the shop used to be a laundromat and i think we mostly forget it except when once in a while someone carries in a bag of dirty clothes and looks around, confused, or when the water line broke because it was designed for high-pressure washing machines, not our more simple sinks. spending the day mopping and shoveling ourselves out of inches of water, teamwork to the finest degree, playing beach boys songs on the stereo because why not.
opening morning meetings with conspiracy theory videos, opening morning meetings with videos of owls dancing. shana putting her phone through the dishwasher by accident. lucy bringing baby henry into the shop and all of our eyes growing twice their size, all of us melting, work slowing down but not stopping, henry as a magical distraction. hearing brenna and adrienne at the enrober launching very specific harry potter trivia questions back and forth. maresa’s gingerbread macaron, getting to work in proximity to her most every day. the day i tried to talk only in common turns-of-phrase but didn’t last very long. alexis making batch after batch of peanut butter bars and always wearing neutrals. when lagusta made fresh marzipan. the very polarizing stephen hawking movie. chocolate calisthenics with pauline. how much brendon hates bobby flay. tigers and lizards showing up all over the shop and no one seeming concerned but me. all the birthday parties, specifically the buffy category adrienne made for my jeopardy game. & i’d like to formally apologize for how much complaining i did about the process of ordering mugs.
this year we made 2,000 vulvas in one day, had zero mangler injuries, and the smell of juniper & apple cider & spruce tips boiling down is happily locked into my senses, forever.
Gear! I like to measure time progressing by the behind-the-scenes improvements and efficiencies at the shop. When I’m not here I can still imagine how to fine tune systems even without smelling the chocolate, caramel, or nougat. For instance, when we get new Knowles-themed machines (hello Solange, our new melange! Which does in one batch what our little melangee would struggle to do in 10) I see progress, the future! We’ve added another induction stove top in the back room dedicated to caramel making, Mr. Blixer so everything can be creamier, a digital postage scale, a new tape/ribbon/sticker dispensing station in packaging world, and the new shed so everything can have its proper packaging! Finally upgrading our computer system from that 10 year old 17″ laptop to a discretely mounted Mac Mini with rotating monitor and keyboard (yes, I love installing new systems!) At the end of the year I see how all these little systems and improvements let us exist and operate how we want, create chocolates we were always envisioning, and be closer to our vision. Sometimes I feel like I see everything but the chocolate but at the end of the year I know we’re many systems.
The best decision I made in 2014 was to write the sentence, “I’m an amateur vegan chocolatier from Salt Lake City who would love the chance to intern in your shop.”
I’m sure taking out a highlighter pen and highlighting all my time spent at Lagusta’s would seem excessive, but trust me, it’s not. It’s merely hard to understand how every moment just happened to be important. Maybe it’s because I was there as a learning experience, I was there specifically to grow, to confront myself. Maybe it’s all the happenstances of timing from the day I arrived to the day I left that makes me pensive; being thrown into someone’s life during the arrival of an episode of seriousness that took me weeks to comprehend, to traveling to the same street a state away as a coworker the day I left.
It felt like a washing machine, but it felt like I was on the right path.
I got to witness that there’s a type of structure in this frantic lifestyle, you can aspire to meet all of your morals, you can have the most healthy work environment if you simply work at it by surrounding yourself with supportive people, and that that is the most important thing. The people behind the product are what make it significant. The fundamentals of the trade reverberate in my heart from my coworkers lips, about how caramel teaches you patience, teaches you how you’re not in control of everything. The production of it all never gets easier; it just takes a different amount of effort, and once you understand that the people are just important as the product, there’s a rhythm to it all. When I first arrived and people asked “what is it that you want from your internship?” I was thrown into a pathetic existential dilemma of why was I even there? When I go back and reread what I wrote months before to Lagusta, I no longer have to be baffled by my actions. It was for the opportunity to be mentored by strong, like-minded feminists, and I can honestly say it was more than I anticipated. My time spent there will always be something I reflect back upon, as it wasn’t only my highlight of the year; it’s become the model of the character I want to be and the goals I want to meet.
Everyone in the shop has made an imprint in my memory and I can’t believe how much I already care, but I’m so glad I do. Thank you for this experience, to everyone.
OMG DID THAT ALL MAKE YOU CRY, OR WHAT!