I’m not going to be all “OMG what a year, worst year” blah blah. We all know.
But also: there were so many joys this year.
We renovated the chocolate shop HQ and Commissary completely (at the end of it all, we gave our contractor a trophy for being so amazing. That kind of year.). It turned out to be the perfect year to do it, since we didn’t have customers in our public spaces for so long anyway.
The goal of both renovations was to be able to produce more product, and it worked — because of this, we didn’t take a huge financial hit because of the pandemic. That feels REALLY good. We even managed to squeak out an across-the-board raise at the chocolate shop*, to raise our starting wage, and to expand benefits for full-time workers and managers, and that feels *REALLY REALLY* good.
I mean, I guess I have to mention the thing? OK. We never shutdown (except the shop in the city, which was closed for a few months during the worst of things). There’s no way we could afford it. So we made it work. The pandemic added piles of stress to all of our days every day, of course, in little ways and huge ways. Someone on our staff got an asymptomatic case of COVID and three staff members have been one degree from it, necessitating quarantining and massive scheduling shifts. Because we always wear masks and are ridiculously strict about not eating or drinking within 12’ of anyone else, taking temperatures, having a questionnaire about COVID-safety and social distancing protocols everyone has to complete before they clock in, etc etc, we didn’t have an outbreak on the staff even among people who had worked right next to the person who tested positive.
I’d never really thought about how many meals I eat around co-workers, and what a strong community that creates. This year most of our break meals were eaten alone quickly in the break room or in the bathroom (!!) or a car, a lonely and heartburn-inducing experience. We were all so dehydrated all year because drinking water meant stopping work to go stand outside. Figuring out safe protocols for the staff took up hundreds of hours for our GM Rachel and I. Rachel devoted weeks to navigating the choppy waters of PPP, EIDL, FFCRA, and other scary acronyms. At Commissary we threw ourselves into building a website for contactless ordering, setting up delivery systems, and ensuring we had good stock of the endless takeout containers we now needed. We spent every manager’s meeting discussing comfort levels and decided we didn’t want indoor dining until the pandemic had calmed down.
Overall our customers were AMAZING. For everyone who called us “socialist bitches” (it happened) or said “why can’t I eat in here if no one’s in here” (finally I told a customer, “The people working here aren’t nothing.” and they looked so stunned, truly hadn’t thought of it that way), a million more tipped extra, put an extra mitzvah on the mitzvah wall, thanked us for our commitment to safety, and were extra sweet and gentle on us.
Working in a public-facing job right now is terrifying. There’s no other word for it. At this point practically a year in we’ve worked out systems for it, but we all live in fear of a customer coming in without a mask and screaming at us, of an outbreak among the staff, of being ordered to shut down. There are no right answers for how to function so we’re all just doing the best we can and trying to be soft with ourselves.
I came home and collapsed in tears only a few times, always when a customer had screamed at me or, worse, screamed at someone on the staff and I wasn’t there to take the hit.
I’ve never felt more like I was working on a team than this year. I’ve never been more vulnerable in front of the staff — making collective decisions with the knowledge that our actual lives might be on the line. I tried to do as much research as I could and bring a plan to the staff and make sure everyone was OK with it.
Everyone stepped up to the plate. During the summer when so many people let down their guard, our staff didn’t. Because we have immunocompromised people on our crew, we were all extra strict in order to protect the most vulnerable among us. Our friend circle became our work germ pod, because there’s no one else we could socialize with. And because we truly enjoy being around each other. One day practically the entire chocolate shop staff spontaneously went to Onteora Lake, floating on the river and not wearing clogs around each other, for once. I wish we had a big staff party this year like we always do, I wish I had a staff portrait to show you, but we didn’t and I don’t. Next year? Wear your mask.
And politics. I’m ashamed to say that I needed June. The businesses needed June. That I needed a national uprising in outrage over murder in order to examine my own role in a racist system surprised me. My businesses are overtly political, that’s the reason for their existence. I should have done better. Starting this summer we made some way-too-small changes to our basic existence that I hope will, over time, result in a less, ah, racist way of existing:
- After Valentine’s Day we’re going to take a company-wide anti-racist training program taught by a member of our community.
- We’re working with this same educator to develop a program for how to celebrate Black History Month in February.
- We’ve started looking harder at small things, like our shop playlist. In my attempt not to have music by white, straight cis men I put on too many riot grrrl and other not-so-diverse genres that I grew up with, which I’m working on changing. Making our spaces more welcoming to all means analyzing the way we present ourselves to the world including our iconography, music, and physical spaces in general.
- Two of the three businesses I own or co-own are in 82% white New Paltz which makes hiring a diverse staff hard, but we still need to be doing more, particularly since so many of our employees are from SUNY New Paltz. In order to attract a more wide-ranging pool of applicants we’ve been working with the director of the SUNY New Paltz Career Resource Center, Mark McFadden, who posts our job listings to the financial aid department, BIPOC organizations on campus, and the disability resource center. We’re also listing our job offerings on a wider array of sites across the Hudson Valley.
- We participated in this great initiative.
Our way is to keep pushing, do the small things when you can do them, do the big things when you can do them, just keep moving forward, just keep learning and growing. So that’s what we’re trying to do.
Ericka has done great work to make our social media and website more accessible by adding alt text and ensuring our design is clear and readable across all platforms and to all. We did a food drive at Confectionery. Mitzvah Walls at Commissary and Confectionery are a constant joy, attracting a beautiful community. A donor who has been buying larger mitzvahs in honor of her father for us to distribute at Commissary have allowed us to provide so many free meals + treats to our community.
What else? A bunch of celebrities bought our chocolates and came into our cafe and NYC shop, — COOL ONES! Billie Eilish, Zooey and Emily Deschanel (best custies for like a decade now)….RACHEL MADDOW?!?! Others, too, but those are my faves, ok?
We made some cool new chocolates: Maple Latte Bar, the Ombré Turtle Box, Rosh Hashanah Box, White Chocolate Lovers Box, Self-Care Box, Ginger-Orange Meltaways, Holi Bark, a beautiful box of chocolates to support Woodstock Sanctuary.
At Commissary we made hundreds of meals to be distributed to people in need during the height of the pandemic in the spring, and were even paid for them through a great governmental program, Project Resilience.
And we hired an amazing new baker and started having more baked goods regularly. We implemented a grab-and-go program selling fermented hot sauce, cheese sauce, gravy, beans and greens, and more. Luis made tamales and they became a regular on the menu.
Before the pandemic was the water crisis. For weeks we ran two-water dependent businesses in a town that didn’t have safe tap water. I spent a long time every day filling up gallon containers of water from a truck in order to get through the Valentine’s Day rush at the chocolate shop.
Oh SPHERES! When cocoa bombs went viral and we got orders for hundreds out of the blue overnight. That was funny. Oh, and I got an office this year! I love it.
Here are some places we donated to (see here for a full list)
- Black Farmer Fund
- Support and Feed
- Assata’s Daughters
- Coalition for Healthy School Lunch
- Food Empowerment Project
- Planned Parenthood
- Haus of Peculiar
- Black Trans Protestors Emergency Fund
- Trans Queer Pueblo
- Arts Business Collaborative
- Arthur’s Acres
- Knights for Animal Rights
- New Paltz Arts in the School
- Mountain Laurel School
- Acorn Waldorf School
- Seedling Sovereignty
- Hudson Valley Program for Middle School Girls
Happy New Year, friends. Thank you for existing.
*Commissary isn’t all that profitable so we can’t afford a raise like this, but because of increased tips everyone makes a decent wage there. : )
Here are a few notes from Ericka, our Digital Media and Marketing Manager:
I just re-read my 2018 and 2019 blog posts and laughed because I wrote ‘2019 was the worst year of my adult life’ ….lol. 2020 took that challenge very seriously. One day in 2019 I pulled my daily tarot cards and got the 8 of pentacles, and the tower. I went to work thinking I was getting fired tbh and then Lagusta was like ‘Can we talk outside?’ and I was like holy [redacted] I’m actually getting fired. Turns out Lagusta was actually asking me if I would be interested in being the first ever marketing and social media person for all the businesses! She was like ‘Do you want a secured job out of college doing exactly what you love for three vegan businesses?’ and i was like hmm lemme think about it. Of course I want that!!?!!?!! And this year in May I transitioned into that role. It was pretty weird to deal with a ton of imposter syndrome moving into this position. And when my friends were already struggling to find post-college jobs, and then covid hit, I spent a lot of time thinking I didn’t deserve this job and that I certainly shouldn’t be celebrating it in these moments. But after looking back at this year, I’m proud of the work that I’ve done and I’m even more proud of the work that these businesses have done. It was a clunky transition at times but I’m typing this in my office between answering website chats and updating the commissary ordering site, so I think we’re good :). I feel incredibly honored to pioneer things! And I really want to say thank you to Lagusta for not being afraid to hire and trust young people! And for trusting and hiring me, I love my job and I love the people here. Thank you to this entire crew for accepting me as a very rough river rock two years ago and continuing to tumble me into the shiniest version of myself. There. A metaphor! Here’s to 2021, zero expectations, still full of optimism, end goal: BTS eating our chocolate.
PS: Here are links to our past best-ofs!