LL 2015 Staff Highlights

Here’s the second part of our annual year-end roundup. Part one, with a lot of words from me, is here. 

Adrienne:

New recipes were mastered, delicious ice cream was made, potlucks were shared, people stepped up when others had to prioritize time with loved ones, early mornings and late nights were enjoyed in each other’s company, and delicious chocolates were devoured by all.  We couldn’t ask for a better place to spend our days.

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Alexandra:

Becoming designated custie person and getting to know all the lovely regular customers a little better, taking one of the hardest course loads I have ever taken and ultimately being so proud of how I did and how much I learned, going to the museum of natural history for the first time with my wonderful boyfriend, seeing both Seal and Madonna in concert, lavender lemonade, toffee, hot cider, maple pecan caramel, Lagusta’s pizza, celebrating the shops 4 year anniversary along with my relationship’s 4 year anniversary, being surrounded by the most amazing people every day at work and learning so much about both them and myself, feeling more and more grateful every day that the shop exists, knowing the incredible person that is Lagusta, meeting brilliant Pauline.

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Alexis: 2015 was the year where going to work didn’t feel like going to work anymore. It was the year I truly felt at home in the shop.

2015 was a year of change, loss and growth. And we rallied around one another, everyone so soft and so strong. The staff I belong to – I’d say they’re people that I’ve been waiting to meet my whole life. They’re not co-workers and bosses, they’re friends. I’m thankful for them all every day.

Some quick highlights:

-Had my last “waitressing” job this summer during Lagusta’s beautiful dinner series.

-Got my first real oven burn. Hurt like hell.

-Grew to enjoy the world of solitary enrobing, which was previously my least favorite and most often fucked-up task

-Discovered the beauty of listening to podcasts while working (especially while enrobing)

-Shipped a hell of a lot of boxes in December

-Ate so many scraps

-Learned a whole lot about veganism and made some pretty tasty work lunches

-Witnessed Maresa toss/chuck/heave so many cupcakes/macs/flax eggs into the ditch and it was never not funny

-Had some great Gilmore Girls chats. I’m looking at you two, Adrienne and Alexandra.

This past month I kept catching myself smiling as I walked through the shop, watching everyone work so seamlessly and flawlessly together through our busiest time. I’m so damn grateful to be a part of this. It’s been quite a year.

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Annie:

I am a relative newcomer to the LL family, having arrived in June to this lovely, tight-knit, happy crew. I’m a food business veteran and the oldest member of the bunch so I wondered how my way of looking at things would fit in with the tone already set in the place. Thankfully, it has been a smooth, easy ride. I’m happy to put forward my ‘wisdom’ (ha!) on food safety and baking equipment and proper footwear – it makes me feel useful and, frankly, like less of a newbie amidst all these people who really know their stuff despite not having decades of experience. Impressive and humbling as that is, I am super pleased that I’m starting to learn all the exacting, attention-requiring arts of chocolatier-ing from such patient, cool, fun people.

So, on to the highlights of the year… One of the real perks of the job for me is that I’m able to visit with and feed my son every working day – that is an amazing opportunity for a new, working mom. I so appreciate everyone accommodating me and him, even during the busiest of times, and it has made the whole experience just perfect.

I’ve really enjoyed acquiring a few titles along the way: Food Service Professional (natch), Spider Catch (and release)-er, and Peppermint Patty Princess (by far my favorite, but I’m wondering, when do I get my tiara??).

It has been enlightening to see how even the ‘mistakes’ (Thank god, since I made plenty) get used and made into something amazing and delicious – the most truly efficient and waste-free kitchen that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot!

And even though I espouse to be a principled person, it wasn’t until I saw just how much Lagusta lives by her principles and has made a successful business that supports and benefits her community, that I started to ‘put my money where my mouth was’ and tried to do the same. Joined a CSA, stopped supporting businesses that have dodgy practices, ate better and encouraged others to do the same, the whole shebang. I owe her a big thanks for that inspiration and kick in the pants.

But the best highlight for me was making a bunch of friends who make going to work the highlight of my week!! Thank you, one and all.

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Jacob:

In 2014 I was focused entirely on improvements inside the shop but this past year we started looking outside. We always have a list of wants, needs, and dreams for projects at the shop (if only you knew of some of the grander dreams that have come and gone over the last few years!) and this year we decided to just start crossing some of them off. The biggest one that you’ll see if the patio in the front of the shop. That started with a plan to redo our perpetually potholed filled driveway with porous pavers. We went though many design ideas and in the process realized that redoing the front area and setting the parking area back away from the building would be the best best for now. We had our farmer friend Ian Taliaferro design and do the work and we revealed it at our 4-year anniversary party. We’re so happy with how it turned it that we had our only dinner series of the year out on the patio this summer. We also added an awning on the side entrance of the shop (no more shoveling snow in order to get into the shop!), a huge deck in the back, and the ornamental holiday front awning for the winter. In addition, one of my favorite new items (a years long project!) was the custom bike rack on the side of the patio, that really finished it off for me.

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Inside the shop we were finally able to tackle the nearly decade old Bluestocking Bonbons packaging when we realized we’d be running out of Furious Vulva boxes. This was a huge opportunity for us to bring it up to date but also a lot of pressure to work with one of our oldest, and most recognized, products. After eliciting outside help (thanks Scott!) and numerous revisions (thanks JP & Hemlock!) we finally settled on the new Vulva box and I think it’s the best of both worlds. I can’t wait to update all the rest of them.

Of course there’s chocolate too! My favorites for the year:

– The Blood Orange Heart: I was proud of our new creation! It’s often hard to create new meaningful chocolates (that taste great) for holidays and this one was splendid.
– Peanut Butter Ice Cream Caramel Bar: This one was a dream, literally, we’ve been dreaming of such a thing! I used to eat Snickers Ice Cream bars as a kid and there was always the want, the need, for one. Lo and behold, we have it!

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– Slushies and ice cream: for a chocolate shop we do really great on the non-chocolate side. I was lucky enough to taste-test so many great ice creams and slushy flavors this summer.

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Daylily bialys with foraged daylily flour: I could eat these with Miyoko’s or Treeline cheese every day of my life. In fact, I think I did as long as I could until they ran out. I even helped forage for these so I think I earned it!

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Kate:

my year’s memories include birthday party potlucks & scaling recipes up-up-up, wondering why we didn’t do it sooner. working harder and better than last year: being unsurprised, being proud. we got new thermometers and an extra selmi (no big deal) (very big deal) and on halloween lagusta covered the shop in spiderwebs with me, which honestly felt like the thing I was born to do. trying to come up with specific and standout memories of the year proves difficult: when you love your work so much, when you are in awe of your co-workers. every day is standout & I am aware of how rosy I am painting all of this & it is my day job, yes & punks aren’t supposed to like their jobs or something & yeah right & some jobs are worth loving & rose rose rose rose rose

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Kyra:

Having just started working at the shop two months ago, its hard to call attention to specific moments of importance when every moment so far feels invaluable in creating my general sense of love for Lagusta’s Luscious world and all of the incredible people who make it such an incredible place to be.

Every day spent at the shop is full of new feats, new chocolates to taste, endless laughter–work for me is dipping turtles, making the always-crucial whipped cream, spoonfuls of peanut butter filling, celebrating birthdays with the best potlucks and party hats, memorizing the ever-growing collection of quotes suspended throughout the shop while wrapping bars in gold, the olfactory satisfaction of Maresa’s Macarons, and toasted pecans, and Walk in the Woods bars. The list goes on.

It’s 11 pm on New Years Eve, and although my general attitude towards this holiday is that the sentiment of excitement for renewal can be replicated any day of the year, tonight I’m relishing in this holiday’s tendency towards hyperbole and feeling extremely grateful for the last two months of this year, and the year to come. I feel so lucky to be a part of such a strong community of talented people who provide me with infinite opportunity for growth- and to be able to feel that about a workplace is something rare and unforgettable.

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(crazy work times didn’t allow time for me to take photos of some of our newest LL team members, eeek!)

Lauren:

The highlight for me this winter was definitely getting to work with so many unique, fun, quirky, entertaining, kind, helpful, amazing people. Everybody was willing to teach and answer questions and to share their love of this delicious, creative work. Birthdays were always highlights as well- whether we had potlucks or pizza parties it was so great to set aside time during the busy day to celebrate and enjoy food and good company!

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Meredith:

One 2015 LL time that I will always remember is working on Halloween. We had spent the day before packaging pieces of bark that looked like spider webs for the trick or treaters. After putting all of the bark pieces into the bags, we thought we had way too much chocolate, and that we’d have a massive amount left over. Come Halloween and the herds of trick or treaters, we ran out of spider web bark within 2 hours, and had to frantically package random pieces for the masses of children that were coming into the shop. As frantic as it was, it felt strangely fun to be that insanely busy for the day.

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Shana:

well, 2015 came and went faster than a peanut butter lover such as myself can devour a peanut butter cup. Things have been tough on an emotional & friendship level, but I truly have never felt stronger teamwork than I did during the past 2 months. Filling hundreds of orders with just a few of us, and without Lagusta being around because she was busy being the best daughter/caretaker/friend on this planet, was hard – but it felt good. it also feels incredible to be creatively fulfilled by your job because working late or going in early doesn’t matter. Working with people who are hilarious and talented barely gets tiring when you are proud of what do you. Now, as I do every year, I’m attending another chunk of Phish concerts to say goodbye to the year. So, I’m sitting here in NYC listening to people talk about working in crappy offices, and their long commute on the subway everyday to get to work. And how Phish NYE is their only outlet for happiness. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here laughing and eating my hazelnut sugarplum caramel bar.

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Lagusta’s Luscious 2015 highlights, 2016 goals

It’s a tradition at LL to reflect on our best moments of the year past as we make preparations for the year to come. The next post will be notes from most of our staff, but first a few thoughts of my own.

2015 was the strangest year of my life. I barely worked—which is a string of words not appropriate to describe me since I was fourteen. I cared for my mother as she battled cancer, and came into the shop in bits and pieces. It was the hardest and worst year of my life—slowly watching a disgusting disease kill your best friend is pretty much the definition of “hard times”—but professionally it was filled with astonishments and joys. One of the (many) gifts that care-taking gave me was that I was forced to let go of so many more responsibilities at work than I’d ever dreamed was possible—and the LL team picked them right up.

Now, on the other side of everything and trying to slowly process and heal, one of the excitements of the future for me is the knowledge that I can take time for other projects without the chocolate business collapsing. I have some great plans for 2016 both personally and professionally. Some I’m keeping under wraps, but here are a few:

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We’re going to:

  • Dip our toes into the (vegan) white chocolate sea. We’ve been making our own butter-to-bar white chocolate for a while, and I never quite trust that it’s as good as it is. But it is. It’s good! It’s a lot more expensive to make then dark chocolate, so we’ll have to see how it sells…
  • Revamp our website! Our indefatigable web manager, Erin, has patiently been building us a shiny new site which will be so much more elegant and user-friendly. Can’t wait to show it to you.
  • Buy a better ice cream maker! So we can churn out so much more.
  • Revamp our Chocolate of the Month Club. The club is really hard to run! But people really like it! So we’re making it easier on ourselves by making collections of new chocolates paired old favorites for each month, instead of an all-new huge assortment of sweets, which sort of took over our lives in a wild way. Running a sustainable business means it has to be sustainable for us, too, as I periodically remind myself.
  • Take care of our staff. I intend to keep finding ways to take better care of our staff while still making enough of a profit to stay in business. At the end of 2016 most of our staff will be paid at or near $15/hour, which is above the industry norm but still isn’t enough to, say, buy a house in New Paltz, where property values are bonkers. I can’t pay for health care for everyone, but I want to look into a group plan which would make it more affordable for everyone to pay for it themselves. And I’ll be instituting a system of a few paid days off every quarter and paying everyone’s regular wages when they need to take off for health reasons. I was deeply inspired this year by reading Judy Wicks’ Good Morning, Beautiful Business. It lit a fire under me to figure out innovative ways to run a business that’s sustainable in the most deep sense of the word.
  • I have an all-new 16-piece beautifully crafted box of chocolates I never got a chance to show you or sell last year. I spent pretty much all my free time developing it, and I’m hoping it becomes a core product.
  • We’re probably going to need to raise the price of truffles in our display case. We have to. Just truffles though. They just take so much time to make when compared with everything else. Caramels, ganache bonbons (i.e. square truffles), creams—everything else will stay at $2 a piece, but truffles have to be $2.25 if we want to continue to make them.
  • I’ll continue working toward turning the business into a B Corp., which is a kind of corporation in which things other than dollars are taken into account in the charter of one’s business. However we’re still a little tiny bit small for that. So right now we’re just an LLC, and I’m the sole owner of it which is great. If I had a Board of Directors, and we were not a B Corp but a traditional corporation, the board would be legally required to act in ways that put profit above all. It’s the way the corporations are legally structured. But with an LLC the power is mine, I can do whatever I want, and since I haven’t run the business into the ground yet I figure I’ll just keep on keeping on in my obstinate silly fun way.
  • Croissants! And bringing back Croissant Caramels. Annie, a relative newbie to our team, has a baking background, and I can’t wait to exploit her skills to the max by putting her on the most dreadful recipe of all time: vegan laminated pastry. Woo!

I have some more goals but man this is getting long.

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Back to 2015.

I’m always really proud to donate to all the places we do. Mostly we can only do little gift certificates and things, but slowly we do more and more, which feels good.

Here’s a partial list of groups we donated to in 2015:

  • 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
  • Family of New Paltz
  • Mohonk Preserve
  • Skylands Animal Sanctuary
  • Historic Huguenot Street
  • PS 267
  • ALIVE Rescue and One Tail at a Time
  • Brown Paper Bag Movement
  • Born Free USA
  • Sunflower Art Festival
  • Abolitionist Vegan Society
  • Animal Welfare League
  • Vida Vegan Con
  • TMI Project
  • SASHA Farm
  • The Vagina Monologues
  • The Humane League
  • New York State Speech Language Hearing Association
  • Unison New Paltz
  • Sing Out International

Ok.

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Finally, my own 2015 highlight reel:

When we bought a new Selmi (fancy chocolate machine that keeps 50 lbs of chocolate in perfect temper all the time!) and barely blinked an eye even though buying the first took years of agony and scraping.

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Maresa & Kate’s April Fool’s joke on me, which is too long and injokey to explain but which perked me up when my mom was in the hospital and starting to slide downward and I desperately needed perking.

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When Kate took over making ice cream from me and was almost instantly better at it than me (humbling; wonderful).

Except when I made that Ants on a Log ice cream which was RIDICULOUSLY TASTY.

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(thank you Neysha for this photo)

Watching Annie’s infant son Conor get bigger by the second when he comes in to get some Annie-food.

Jacob and Jared instantly building a gigantic Sukkot-style living awning after I offhandedly mentioned that we should do “something like this,” this being the 5th Avenue Lord & Taylor holiday decorations.

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The Peanut Butter Caramel Ice Cream Bar, which was a 2015 goal realized through much kicking and screaming by our staff, who thought it wasn’t possible until they realized just how possible it is and love it like I knew they would (OK, yes, making it is a hell, but that’s why it’s $10!).

Our four year anniversary party was magical.

The royally strange chocolatier that is Shana Napoli sustained me so often in 2015 with her weirdnesses and wild energy.

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Alexis & Adrienne inventing Pagan Bark was so special and wonderful–taking a random idea I had and running with it, watching it transform from this:

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to this:

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I loved the one Savory Dinner Series we did. Maybe in 2016 we’ll do two.

Listening to Meredith and Alexandra and my mom talk about animal rights in the shop: a memory I keep coming back to. My mom loved hanging out at the shop so much.

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Keeping the little garden out front and growing the flowers we use in the Flower Tablets is always a highlight of my year.

We did SO MANY improvements to our little LL compound in 2015, but I bet Jacob will mention them in his roundup, so I won’t say anything except this:  our new patio entrance wasn’t something we could really afford, but we did it anyway, and the beauty of it sustained me so deeply every minute afterward. Our pal Ian Taliaferro did such a magnificent job.

Alexis carving us pumpkins.

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So much.

Let me know what you’d like to see us make and do this year, OK?

Next up! Staff favorites.