best of 2020

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
  • Vocal-NY
  • Arthur’s Acres
  • Knights for Animal Rights
  • New Paltz Arts in the School
  • Mountain Laurel School
  • Acorn Waldorf School
  • Seedling Sovereignty
  • Samadhi
  • 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!

Renovations! Before and after photos Part V: the counter


I love this counter so much.

I bought it real cheap from a deli that had gone out of business.

It wasn’t anything fancy.

In fact, it was pretty ugg.

But I loved it instantly because it had CUBBIES!! Oh me oh my I loves me some cubbyholes.

Bags! Boxes! Deli waxy paper! Stickers! Vegan starter kits! The top-secret list of who’s not allowed at the shop! (Really just one vile rabid right wing Republican, who lives around the corner and whose beliefs about marriage equality are so disgustingly neanderthal-ish that I couldn’t ever bear to have his energies near my revolutionary chocolates.)

I set about repainting the counter the inverse of the rest of the shop: brown with blue trim.

I commissioned the unbelievable Andrew Gray to make a custom countertop, which he amazingly agreed to do in exchange for chocolates.

The new over the old.


(And look at the gross laminate countertop it replaced!)

Andrew giving the wood a final rubdown. Every Sunday night I clear everything off it and rub some mineral oil onto the surface. We decided not to suffocate it with polyurethane, in order to let the wood breathe and settle and change and wear gracefully over time.

It feels amazing.

Top was installed. It was beautiful.

But it needed one more thing: WORDS!

Kate and Kevin from Dresser Johnson designed a glorious giant vinyl sticker for the little manifesto I’d written about the chocolates. They brought their usual obsessive attention to detail to the sticker installation.

(They UNINTENTIONALLY dress alike most days. I KID YOU NOT.)

Meticulous! No air pockets!

(Click to make it bigger so you can read it. Be sure to notice the zillion bruises my legs incurred in the process of moving and setting up shop!)

It’s so perfect now.

Have I mentioned that I love this counter?

So, so, so much.

Renovations! Before and after photos Part IV: the garden

Let’s take a look at the garden, shall we?

Here’s what came before:

Note the Coke machine in the left corner, and the two car vacuums on the left side. Classy!

Post Coke machine, pre-renovation: early April.

And last week!

The planter now in the Coke machine spot.

Tomatoes, lemon verbena, and masses of pansies. And pineapple sage!

Rosemary for the caramels in front of the door, next to a cigarette butt can I got all spray painty on and planted tomatoes into.

So that’s the entrance area. My contractor pal Aaron is making a bench for the right side of the door (the left side has that pretty blue table), which I can’t wait to show you…

My green-thumbed pal Lauren helped me design and plant the garden by the Rail Trail, on the west side of the property. She’s pretty hardcore awesome.

Rail Trail garden: foxgloves, watermelon, borage!

The borage is much bigger now, and has gorgeous flowers.

I never knew about foxgloves before.

How insanely gorgeous they are.

In addition to the rail trail garden, the planter in the old Coke machine spot, and the rosemary and tomatoes by the door, we’ve got two more planters.

Remember those car vacuums?

We took them out. I know: you’re surprised. Who wouldn’t want a car vacuum at a chocolate shop? I know, I know.

We turned those spots into planters and planted tons of nasturtiums in them. They’re doing great. I eat one a day.

I never knew about fuchsias either, until Lauren persuaded me to get a hanging pot of them.

Heart-stoppingly lovely, I tell you.

More photos to come as the season progresses, my friends!

Renovations! Before and after photos Part III: the mailbox

Everything at the building was crappy when we bought it. Right down to the mailbox. This battered old dude barely even opened. We probably should have replaced the post, particularly when we noticed the carpenter bees, but I didn’t mind it and it was fairly sturdy, so we didn’t. I wanted to splurge on some crazy modern mailbox, but it wasn’t in the budget.

So we got this off the rack model and turned to my new BFF, outdoor spray paint, to make it ours.

If I’d looked at this photo before starting to spray, I could have easily seen what I now see every day—I really needed to put more paper down. Alas, the parking lot now matches the building a bit more.


Also, if I’d realized how close these numbers were to the color of the paint, maybe I would have left a little square brown so they’d stand out a bit more. Ah well. The mailman, Scott, knows who we are.


I love it!

I planted some chile pepper plants under the mailbox, so hopefully they will grow up and prettify the space with multi-colored little peppers.


Renovations! Before and after photos part II: mural, ceiling, fridge, and display case

Let’s get into the main room, shall we?

A lot of the challenge of the building is changing parts of it that just look “old” and “rundown” to “vintage” and “cool.” The drop ceiling was a good example of this—who doesn’t hate a drop ceiling with those awful old acoustical tiles? Sheetrocking the ceiling wasn’t in our budget, and raising it to the rafters would only get us 6 inches or so, so we decided to just live with it. One day when poking around at Lowe’s I saw completely flat ceiling tiles—much better looking than those gross holey ones. I got a bunch and decided to paint half with the robin’s egg blue wall paint and maybe make a checkerboard pattern or something.

Ah, Lowe's.

Painting all those tiles was excruciatingly boring, and for some reason it was freakishly cold in the space those few days, so I got a crappy old jacket and scarf all painty. Ah well.

My graphic designer pal Kevin suggested a few less-boring designs than a plain old checkerboard, and I’m really happy with how it all turned out:

Quite Mad Men, eh?

Here’s the ceiling before:

I loved this mural, which came with the laundromat. Its cool blues fit so well with the paint, too! Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep it. Sigh.

Bye bye, my darling!

Here’s that space today:

Speaking of that fridge, can you believe it used to live at my house? Suddenly now I have a dining room! It’s amazing.

Here is it half in and half out of the house.

Let’s talk about the glorious display case. It only cost a couple hundred dollars, but somehow after putting in refrigeration, better lighting, painting it, and getting custom-cut glass shelves, it ended up costing many times that. But who cares, I’m madly in love with this vintage baby, who originally came from the storied Depuy Canal House (R.I.P.):

In the raw space, blurrily:

Jacob putting in cool new LED lights:

We’ll have to wait for photos of it in all its full, filled-up glory for the shop to open, but until then I’ve got all the dishes ready to go (note custom-cut new glass shelves!):

Another view from behind:

And a wee one from the front:

That’s it for tonight, check back soon for more!

Renovations! Before and after photos Part I: the bathroom

Our renovation is coming along nicely! We’re on track to open in a few weeks, so I’m finally getting a chance to relax a little.

Time for a few photos!

This blog format doesn’t allow for great photo viewing, so be sure to click on them for a much bigger photo. This is the first little tiny bit of a whole slew of blog posts about the renovation, so if that’s your kind of thing, check back often in the next few weeks.

Let us begin in the bathroom.

Nothing really interesting here, to be honest, especially since the bathroom isn’t even open to the public. And also because I neglected to take photos of the gross old sink and toilet. Or the new sink and toilet. Well, just imagine a nice new sink and toilet, and you’ve pretty much got it. We also put in a lovely cork floor that I also didn’t photograph, because does a floor really ever turn out well in a photo? Especially a 5’x5′ one?

But the bathroom is all mine, and I love it. Here we go.


Mixing paint:

Post-painting! Really it’s hot pink in there, not red like this weird photo app makes it seem.

This one shows the paint, as well as the inspirational postcard from my friend Jay, better:

(I know I seem all nice and sweet on this blog, but I have some definite anger issues, so I adore this sweet reminder to keep calm.)

Here’s my thing. I’ve worked in far too many grungy-ass commercial kitchens where you emerged from your shift with an oily face, chapped hands from the endless handwashing, and general grossness. I decided that in my sparkling, made-from-scratch world that era was going to come to an end. Not only will I be interacting with the public in the shop, but suddenly I’ve entered this phase in my life where I have decided to start experimenting with makeup. This has resulted in some raccoon-eye days,

but overall I’ve been enjoying it. So I stocked the medicine cabinet with all kinds of girly treats: lip gloss, bobby pins, fancy lotion samples.

Why not, it’s my bathroom!

Perhaps unconsciously to balance out the girliness of the makeup, I put up a print of an Adrienne Rich piece that my feminist mentors at Bloodroot gave me. It gives me chills every time I read it while I’m drying my hands. Click to make it bigger:

And that’s the bathroom!

Coming up tomorrow: the fridge, display case, and ceiling.

things that happened today.

My life is so weird right now—usually I just work and work, and try to squeeze in gossiping with my friends, squeezing my cats until they meow, and reading The New Yorker when I can. But in addition to the work I’ve now got all this building renovation/chocolate shop-building stuff, and man–it’s making for some packed days. I might collapse from exhaustion soon, but right now I’m really enjoying the newness of overseeing renovations and dreaming of how the shop will look.

Because I happen to have photos to illustrate this particular packed day, I thought I’d write a little blog post about it. Here goes.

(Post-publication update: this post turned out to have a lot of parenthetical notes, this being the first [yet, also the last, due to the miracle of editing.


I am suddenly realizing I am almost hallucinatorily {????!!!!} exhausted]. If that sort of thing annoys you, maybe you can catch up with us tomorrow.)

First of all, I woke up at the UNBELIEVABLY EARLY hour of 8:45 am, completely refreshed and ready to start the day.

This never happens.

I’m the night-est of the night owls. Partially it’s because my rock n’ roll boyfriend stays up until 3 or so every night, but even when he’s gone I’m usually doing paperwork until 1 or 2 AM.

Even more amazingly, I actually made myself breakfast—another thing that never happens. It was just some fresh-squeezed oj and a soy yogurt, but it was something. Usually I just jet out of bed and tear into the world, stopping to eat only when the dizziness interferes with work. I’ve been trying really hard to change this lately, because the days when there was delicious savory food around all day at work are over, and caramel for breakfast is not a mistake you make twice.

Once groomed and fed, I delivered these gorgeousnesses to The Cheese Plate in Water Street Market, then went to the building to check things out.

Everyone was buzzing around like crazy in the two apartments that need renovating—the dumpster had just been delivered and half-rotting walls (um. We got a good deal on the building for a reason, OK?) and sheet rock were being tossed into it with abandon.

I started scraping letters off the front door window, and in a minute our friendly contractor, John, asked me to come by and look at something.

“What’s up?”

“We just found a little pistol in the rafters. I don’t think it’s loaded, but you probably want to call the police.”

The pistol was pretty tiny, but it was also real, so I called the police and got to fill out a report and everything. Pretty exciting!

After the CSI part of the day was done, I finished scraping the window and ran a million errands that culminated in me eating Pringles for lunch as I drove to work. Wow.

You know what I could really use right now? A vegetarian home meal delivery service!

At work I fired up the tempering machines and made bunnies and matzo toffee all afternoon.

Then I packed ’em up, dropped them off at the PO, chatted with a friend I ran into (told her the pistol story, of course) and zipped home for an early night in order to catch up with some computer work.

On the way home, I bit the bullet and called this guy who runs a mega warehouse of wholesale kitchen goods where I’d seen a vintage chocolate display case. It was the kind of thing I knew I would regret not buying my entire life if I passed it up. I first spied it last week, in the flashlight-light of the unheated (and unelectrified) warehouse, shining beautifully despite a thick dusty patina, and I hadn’t been able to get it out of my head. I’m a sucker for vintage crap—that sturdy elegance gets me every time.

It needs to have refrigeration put into it, which doubles the cost, but I decided I had to splurge on just one thing, and this was going to be it. I negotiated a price for it and tossed in a brand-new three-bay sink with a drain board (word the wise: don’t buy a used commercial sink. You will regret it. I speak from experience.) too.

Both came in over-budget by a couple hundred dollars, but I consoled myself with two thoughts:

1) I made up the budget without actually researching any costs, and

2) I budgeted $100 for a fire extinguisher and only paid $60.

(I’m an amazing rationalizer, what can I say.)

At home I defrosted some homemade udon noodles (I’m mostly eating food from the freezer these days because there’s not much local produce yet and, more urgently, I’m trying to eat up lots of meal delivery leftovers in order to sell a chest freezer I no longer need. This project has been resulting in me doing things like eating Caesar salad dressing 10 times a week because I defrosted four cups of it, or finding amazing, inventive uses for three quarts of glorious smoky olive oil-refried beans [soup, with rice, with veggies, with kimchi, made into burgers, made into croquettes, a dip, with avocado, etc. Endless!]), tackled the giant pile of mail (when you start an LLC, unsolicited offers of amazingly high APR credit cards come in by the truckload, it’s truly astonishing.), and eyed a pile of receipts warily and wearily. Entering receipts into my accounting spreadsheet is a task I can usually only slog though with a glass of wine and extremely mindless TV shows in the background. Tonight I wasn’t feeling it.

But, the mail! It held a surprise.

The other day, I went by the building to drop some stuff off (I have a terrible idea that if I just bring a carful of crap from one kitchen to the next every time I drive by, the move will be painless and smooth. Needless to say, the contractor who’s going to be building the kitchen, my sweet pal Aaron—who can’t start work on the kitchen/shop until I get a building permit, which is contingent on the Planning Board granting me a Special Use Permit (hooray, red tape!)—is heavily against the idea of me filling up the space with endless boxes when he will soon be doing space-taking-up things like resurfacing a ton of concrete flooring. Not to mention that I am planning on doing all of the painting, including painting all the ceiling tiles, myself, and should probably not cram the place too much until that’s done, lest I trip over a pile of X-rated chocolate molds (oh, I have more than the vulvas, you better believe it.) while craning my neck to put a final coat on the ol’ ceiling. But the lure of the smooth move is so alluring—I can’t stop myself.

Anyway, I was finished unloading the car and was literally just staring at the building and daydreaming when the mailman came up and said “Are you Lagusta?”

“Yep–how’d you know?”

“It says so on your license plate. Oh, and on this really fancy letter you just got. I’m Steve, your mailman. Are you opening a chocolate shop??”

“Yep–how’d you know?”

“Ah, you know: small town. Wait–are you in Rosendale now, in B&S Plaza?”

“Yep–how’d you know???”

“I live right around there.”

So either I live in the cutest, quaintest small town ever, or…my new mailman is a major stalker.

Anyway, the letter was the cutest thing ever. Remember in this blog post when I asked people to write me letters to the new address? Someone did! And it was the sparkliest, most adorable letter ever. (The theme of the past two paragraphs is: “ever.”) Such a treat, among a pile of credit card offers, bills, receipts (grrrr) and insurance papers.

So there we are. A busy, rushing-around sort of day, but a good one.

Now: do I skip out on email and accounting to go watch salamanders cross the road, or not?



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!


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?)