Best of 2016

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It’s the night before my annual vacation, I’m drinking my tea with lotsa whiskey, I’m listening to Miley Cyrus even though I am thirty and eight years old. Let’s go.

2016 in the LL-verse. Will I ever write one of these where I don’t say

IT WAS OUR BIGGEST AND BUSIEST YEAR YET WOW

WHAT A RUSH

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The answer is yes! In like 3 years when I pay off some business debt and can afford to keep the business smallllllll (is beautiful) and pay everyone so so so much better (thru magic/efficiency). (Or: When our incoming president blows us all up with his Twitter account & chocolate isn’t a thing ever again.) Just you wait, Henry Higgins! We’re going to annoy everyone by being that pretentious business always shouting about how we’ve won capitalism and are staying true to our anarchist ideals by turning down business and doing something called “days off.” YOU KNOW THAT GENRE, RIGHT? It’s a thing, right?

But first: baby’s gotta pay off a coupla Selmis.

Thus.

IT WAS OUR BIGGEST AND BUSIEST YEAR YET WOW

WHAT A RUSH

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I love picking out staff gifts and wrapping them all twee with little handwritten cards and things. (Hey, I’m never gonna have kids, so I’ll take my present-giving pleasures where I can get em.) Usually I spend a nice night in my home office writing the letters and wrapping, a little respite from the December craziness. This year I had to take three full nights off from work to get it all done. Last year I wrapped about ten presents, this year I wrapped over twenty.

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Wtfffffff.

The truth of 2016 is I didn’t want to think about my mom having died, so I created a new reality for myself in which I wasn’t given any time to think about it. I wouldn’t exactly recommend it as a strategy for grieving, but as a business-running tactic it’s hella perf.

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Within two weeks in May I opened up an NYC sweets shop with my BFF, Maresa, and a coffeeshop with my partner, Jacob. I didn’t sleep at all in May, it was great! I definitely didn’t spend most of June falling apart, nope! Why do you ask?

Highlights @ random:

  • Um I mean opening Confectionery! and Commissary! was a highlight, yeah. Put exclamation points after your businesses, people. It’s good to do. There’s a highlight for ya. Exclamation points. !
  • I have this friend I met through the internet, Liz, as one does these days. Liz used to do things like work undercover in factory farms taking videos of animal abuses that are still used today to influence legislation and stuff, and now Liz has become a huge coffee nerd/roaster/coffeeshop owner. I could explain all about how this journey parallels my own in ways but I’m always on about that junk so let’s just say I love Liz. So Liz came out to do a two week-long skill-share. God, it was great! Living with another rabid food weirdo for two weeks! Working around the clock! Liz is good at everything! Highlight.

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  • Liz is also a huger food snob than me, which I didn’t think possible, and tasting my way through a few weeks with her strengthened my commitment to using my practice of veganism as clear-eyed needle-nosed activism through making the best well-fed-not-an-animal-dead food and drinks known to humanity. It’s good perfection motivation (my therapist would tell you I don’t need any more of that) to keep up yr standards when not just making money (boringest goal) but the elevation of the progressive movement you most care about is at stake, too.
  • On one of our training days for Commissary!, I stared at the 6 people staring at me waiting to teach them how to run a coffeeshop when I didn’t yet know how to run a coffeeshop (do this, people, it is good for you, to be dumb at things you very quickly have to learn to be great at) and I got a for-real chill down my spine, thinking, “These guys don’t know it yet, but they’re about to become best friends.” Six strangers. That’s abnormal in lil incestuous New Paltz, but I’d brought in ringers: three of our crew were hauled in via social media from cities around the country. Bonkers, eh? Nerve-wracking, eh? And now three of them live together and everyone hangs out after work and the team of six is so tight and runs the place by themselves ridiculously well.
  • (No fancy dinners to report about this year. Oh, but just you wait, 2017.)
  • Weirdly, or not, the New Paltz chocolate shop, heretofore referred to by its given name, Lagusta’s Luscious, continued to up its game. Everyone seemed to, plainly put, get a lot better at their jobs this year. And they were very good at their jobs last year. Everyone new we hired fit into this higher level, or rose to it quickly. The managers run the place so efficiently that now I find myself asking them questions all the time, knowing that since I last made Peppermint Bark or shipped a UPS Ground to California (don’t do it!) they’ve developed better systems than the janky ones I originally instituted.

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  • Kate’s been organizing little shows at Commissary! They’re so perfect. Softhearted, warm, friendly. A sweet community of bands, a constellation of loveliness. We got an offer to have a Big Name play, but word on the street is that he’s not a cool dude. No room for uncool dude vibes in our space. Kate turned him down and he was madddddd. Ha!
  • I just like these guys. I just like them, these women and gender nonconforming individuals and Alan & Jacob. They’re interesting. If I were to write a novel about them (don’t worry that’s definitely not a thing I’ve already started on) it would be impossible because they’re all so themselves in all their interestingnesses and weirdnesses that fictionalizing wouldn’t work. Not one but two of them went to Salem around Halloween because they wanted to get even witchier. Which isn’t really even possible. I mean come on. Jenn knit a santa hat for Tinsley, the gaudy tinsel Halloween cat Kate and I bought at the supermarket (yes she adorably rode the conveyor belt into my arms) which, for reasons I can’t really parse, has to live on the front counter, propping up the Drinking Chocolate menu, or else everyone is mad at me. Veronica (my first employee, hired when she was 17, now grown and running our NYC shop for us, along with Caitlin & Genna) politely asked if we can plan her days off from Confectionery! around Film Forum’s cheap days. Genna’s taking six days off this winter to finish a huge tattoo. Caitlin, of pink hair and vintage dresses, speaks a hundred languages and is getting a PhD in things I can’t explain at Yeshiva University and moonlights making baked goods for her roller derby team. Alexandra spent the semester in Africa preparing for a career of working with elephants and came back not missing a beat, gently teaching the newbies how best to scrub the sink. Alan has become the Commissary! mascot, so lovingly perplexed are all of us about his weird brain, tattoo of his dog’s logo (I know) and obsession with reading Infinite Jest. Adrienne and Kate sent a lot of chocolates to a podcast they like about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the podcasters came to the shop kvelling like crazy and everyone took a lot of photos of themselves jumping very high in the air. Once Kate asked Adrienne what she was going to do that night and she said, “I might put the rats in the bathtub. Not with water, just to hang out together.” I can’t even start in on Alexis’s far-reaching genius, or Taylor’s enrobing prowess, how she’s perfect at everything she touches, even (esp!) when that thing is scraping the floor free of stuck on chocolate. Sarah Jo comes to us as the World’s First Openly Lesbian Navy Chaplin, blowing all of our minds with stories of the military and organized religion on the reg. Ilianna’s wild energy belies a deep understanding of far-left politics that will blow your mind, Kathleen’s effortless competence and humility blow my mind every day, I bow to her strength. Rachel’s one of those people who seems sweet and normie until you learn she’s full-on making puppets at night. Kate, queen of sweet queerdos, presides over choco town appreciating these nuts as much as me, never raises an eyebrow when I ask her to do things like see if the totebag people can provide us with written proof the people sewing the totebags are paid a living wage. Chrissy’s soft heart—a ripe persimmon, sweetness lingering. Cam busting in after high school to tear through a mountain of dishes. Vivian’s quiet, all-seeing eyes. Jacob there to catch anything that could fall through the cracks, efficiency expert, perfection personified.
  • Um, I also like my drive home from Confectionery!, every other Wednesday night. I dawdle until it’s really late, who knows why. Close up shop, get an ice cream at Superiority Burger, read The New Yorker. Right before they close I usually have my favorite seat under the Divine poster (bow down) all to myself. The car’s all packed, I put the padlocks on the grate (Brooks says “gate,” I’m sure I’m right) at 440 and I love that drive, westward along 9th Street, snaking through favorite neighborhoods, a side towel spread out on my lap and messy Superiority Burger (sandwich equivalent of my heart) in one hand, a good long day in our tiny sugar shoebox done, my mind unspooling lazily past where St. Mark’s Bookshop used to be, past Stonewall, easing onto the West Side Highway, up past the new Whitney (I’ll get there eventually), stupid Trump world, Fairway (best). The highlight of my year is midnight Manhattan driving? Yup.

ENOUGH ABOUT MY CRAP! Let’s get to everyone else.

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Are you ready to tear up?

NOT KIDDING.

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LL:

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VIVIAN                                                                                                                                                            The shop became a warm, cozy haven in 2016. Though my time at Lagusta’s Luscious has been short and sweet (a few months,) I have learned so much and can only imagine the plethora of information I have yet to soak up. 2016 was a year full of chaos, political and social turmoil, weirdness, and mental fuzziness that makes you want to believe that the stars and planets were just not aligned even though you don’t entirely believe in that kind of stuff but really want to, but the shop provided an agreeable comfort.

As a newbie, I have much more to experience. Lagusta’s Luscious has provided me with a platform to do so. There is always a new task to complete, a different technique to apply, an unfamiliar recipe to create.

However, my short time at LL has taught me some invaluable information;

  • Work, work, work
  • Efficiency+quality= success
  • One CAN get tired of eating too much chocolate
  • Take care of your feet with clogs like Lagusta, Kate, and Alexis [Lagusta note: wipes hands on apron; hangs it up; work here done]
  • Keep watch of the water in the double boiler so it doesn’t all evaporate (yikes)
  • Farmers are incredible employees
  • Smiling, laughing, and silly jokes are the remedy to making it through a tough day
  • If one has passion, drive, and a vision, anything can be done (cheesy but true)

Both the LL and Commissary! crew restores my hope in humanity. All intelligent, all beautiful, all compassionate, all talented, all creative, all hardworking. So refreshing. I look up to those I work with and am more than grateful to have been given this opportunity. Lagusta fosters a beautiful little compassionate, unique, thoughtful community of like-minded individuals in little New Paltz that gives veganism a beautiful, decadent, remarkable name and has made my year interesting and exciting

Grateful and Thankful

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HOLLY                                                                                                                                                       Moving off of Long Island to begin working at Lagusta’s Luscious was the best possible ending to my 2016. Although I’ve only been a part of the incredible crew there for about a month, I’ve never felt more at home at my place of work. Everyone that I have met has impressed me with their talents, inspired me with their kindness and compassion, and have made me proud to be a part of something so unique and purposeful. I am beyond excited for my future at this wonderful company and I am extremely thankful to have the opportunity to learn from such lovely people. Every day is a great day and one to be appreciated when you love what you do.

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JENN                                                                                                                                                                I’ve been working here for a short time, since this past August, and I am so fortunate to be here with all of these amazing people making amazing things. Everyone who works here is the coolest ever! Seriously! Not only has everyone here been so good at teaching me new things, but they’ve also just been so great to talk to. I’ve learned so much about everyone here and it’s a true honor to spend so much time with everyone, I’ve really  never felt so comfortable in a work environment. I’ve also met so many locals as well as visitors. This is a unique little town that I’ve lived in for the past five years, and I now feel like a true part of it all. It’s so rewarding seeing custies at the shop or in town telling me how delicious the chocolates are and how much Lagusta’s Lucious means to them. My favorite thing is when people walk into the store and ask “is *everything* vegan?” and I get to say yes and make their day! The past several months have meant so much to me, especially considering how turbulent of a year 2016 has been. Having this safe space to spend most of my time in makes all the difference. It’s sincerely one of the most special things I’ve ever been a part of. All of that sappiness being said, my favorite time in the shop is whenever there are chocolate/caramel/macaron/anything scraps available for my consumption. I’m a real scrap vulture.

CHLOE                                                                                                                                                                 A year ago, just off the plane from Sydney Australia, I never would have believed that I would be making vegan chocolates in “upstate” New York. I certainly would have never believed that I would make caramels that include onions, chipotle and miso! Such wonderful creative things are born here because this shop is full to the brim with the most interesting, kind people willing to challenge that ordinary. I’ve learned so much in my 8 months here about dipping turtles, rolling truffles, making Furious Vulvas. Every day here is different. Whether I’m stabbing away at an impossible block of coco butter or gently picking rose petals there is always something new to learn. In fact, I’m still trying to learn how to go an entire day without getting chocolate on my sleeves. The hard work is truly worth the effort as I get to be around such inspiring loving people and end up creating the most delicious chocolates at the end of the day.

So many high points this year, it’s hard to choose a favorite. I think it’s impossible to beat a surprise Twin Peaks birthday party complete with a log cake made by Adrienne. And when times were tough this year I’ve felt most comforted at the shop with an inflatable tube man dancing outside when I need him most and walls covered in endless comics and quotes that remind me that this is where I belong. I can’t wait to see what next year will hold. Thanks to everyone for letting me be a part of this wonderful vegan chocolate world.

ALEXANDRA                                                                                                                                                  This past year I had the privilege of traveling to volunteer in Guatemala & study/intern/live in Kenya. In Kenya I had the opportunity to live out my life’s dream: seeing elephants live wild and free. What brought me much comfort while I was away was knowing I had more than one family to come home to- home family & shop family. Last year Alexis said our staff was made of people she felt like she waited her whole life to meet, and I could not agree with her more. You are all so special to me.

2016 in the shop was composed of freaking amazing ice cream all summer (including leftovers of Maresa’s macaron ice cream sandwiches oh god), talking about eyebrows, dancing as I sometimes do, an epic caramel burn, birthdays & potlucks, custies & recipes galore, the excitement of Commissary! and the incredible lattes that come with such, and jumping back in during the thick of holiday craziness (the time I actually love most). I get super emotional when I really sit and think about the beautiful bubble that is the shop. I’m so deeply thankful to be part of it and work amongst the best peeps I could ever imagine. When the world is so very dark it is truly amazing to be part of the softness and magic of LL.

KATE                                                                                                                                                                     it was a good year, despite. coming to work the day after the election and being in a shared puddle of grief: a gift, an oddity. everyone putting down their umbrellas and getting to throw sugar at the colossal loss we all felt, getting to get down to business and make sweet things on a day we felt completely, utterly, disgustingly useless. & immediately: we made lots of skulls, but everyone knows about that. the rest of the year: i said “damn” in a shop instagram post and this one lady got real mad. adrienne nailed the chipotle onion caramel on her first try i almost fell over. i ate many scraps of the peanut butter caramel bar. the shop got covered in spiderwebs again. jenn found our halloween tinsel cat in the closet and she came to my birthday party. i got to work alongside of people i love and respect, every single day, no exceptions. fringe: getting to book and host shows at commissary, bringing sammus and adult mom and mary lattimore and long beard and and and and… to town to play beautiful shows. also, at the shop we got the whiteboard. we got a new metroshelf by the couch. lagusta is ordering more vulva molds. it’s the small things, too.

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ALEXIS                                                                                                                                                                It’s hard to reflect on my year at the shop without reflecting on my year as a human being. It’s been another year of incredible growth and change and yet after reading my recap of 2015, things are still so much the same. Comfortable and safe. An amazing group of strong-willed, intelligent, valuable women (and a couple good men!) working hard together.

We invented new recipes, grew to meet the demand of two new businesses, ate so many tacos, celebrated all the birthdays, endlessly discussed cult television, laughed a lot. We added amazing new members to our team and made it through the holiday season with grace and relative ease, constantly testing the limits and never settling for less. 

In 2016 the shop opened doors for me to be an artist again in all my most favorite ways. This summer Lagusta, Jacob and Maresa gave me my first big commission to make all of the mugs for Commissary! and the display case plates for Confectionary, I cooked a weekly soup this winter for some of our staff and customers, Kate and I designed a shop tote bag together.

And just like this time last year I walked through the shop during our busiest days exclaiming to whoever was within earshot and sometimes just to myself, we’re so good at this! This is so great! Everyone is working so hard and so well! I need some coffee!

I think the greatest lesson I took from this year is that you’ll only grow as much as you allow yourself to in any facet of your life. You have to do the work to meet your own demands and rally around likeminded people to push upward. There’s so much brilliance under this one small roof, between our four brick walls, sometimes it’s all too good to be true.

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SARAH JO                                                                                                                                                         My greatest hits on my Lagusta’s Luscious playlist is

  1. Starting work at Lagusta’s. As a grad school student I am so grateful for my days of placing academic papers aside and interacting with our wonderful customers.
  2. Working the front. I am blessed and honored to hear so many incredible stories from our patrons. There almost always seems to be a story associated with our chocolates.
  3. The Lagusta’s team. Seriously, these women are amazing! Everyday I am excited to get to know more about them, their passions, and their world views.

Thank you all for collectively creating an incredible adventure which I get to be part of. Here’s to a new adventure for a new year.

CAM                                                                                                                                                                First job! Senior year! Lots of stress, lots of accomplishments and growth! Working at the chocolate shop has been an invaluable experience and I am so grateful that I have been exposed to this magical, very busy world, full of making and packaging lots and lots of chocolate! It is so amazing to me that I can say that I love everyone I work with.  Looking back at when I started in September, I am proud to say that I have learned so much over these past few months and that my speed at packaging chocolate (especially spheres) has increased exponentially.

TAYLOR                                                                                                                                                          This year I found myself calling my identity and concept of “home” into question quite often. In February when I made the move back to my hometown area, (a decision I made in order to reignite my signature ~zest for life~), I felt confusion and loneliness on a greater scale than ever before. I was riddled with crippling anxiety where I once felt endless inspiration; the creative spirit of the Hudson Valley I was so desperate to rediscover, now lost to me. The fog of self-doubt that had settled over my typical headstrong confidence finally began to lift once I was hired at the shop. At Lagusta’s, I discovered a tribe of women I never knew I was missing, yet cannot imagine my current life without; I found a place of work where my excessive energy, skill for multi-tasking, love of getting my hands dirty, and passion for both veganism and cooking come together. When I feel lost in the place I grew up and despair thinking about the state of the world in 2016, I can find comfort in my work and home at the shop.

ADRIENNE                                                                                                                                                     This year there was so much change; the business expanded and new people were added to the LL family. The best part of the year was the way we all grew together to become a team and a family. This is a place where activists and artists can come together to create beautiful things, and I feel so lucky to be surrounded by people who are passionate about what they do.

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ANNIE                                                                                                                                                                So 2016 was a pretty shit year for the world, but a rather nice one for me, generally. I decided to take a step back from working when I noticed my son was sometimes referring to his grandmother (and primary babysitter) as “mama”. That wasn’t going to fly. So, with a heavy heart I resigned from LL. We had a lovely farewell potluck party and I was sad. Naturally. Felt like I’d only just gotten started, only just started to get the hang of things. But then, a month later, a note from Lagusta: Would I consider working very part time, on my own time/terms to help with the croissant and bialy baking for the brand-spanking-new Commissary?? Hmmm, took all of 10 minutes to say yes. And with that I began sneaking away after the wee lad falls asleep at night to laminate dough and shape bialys for an hour or two at a time. So my year at LL feels mostly like this odd silent version of my previous life working there. Puttering around after hours like a little elf. I get to peek at what the truly busy elves get up to all day and wonder at unfamiliar-looking objects (Is that a special order or just a use-up of some failed experiment? Hmmm.) and try to search out ingredients that occasionally migrate to new locations in the shop or just disappear into the ether. (Where the hell did the extra-gluten flour go?!) It’s been great except that I almost never see anyone which makes me sad because most of the joy of working at LL are the folks that work alongside you. And there are all these new folks that I don’t even know. Ah, the endless marching forward of time. But, I’ll sometimes manufacture a reason to go in during the day and say hello and catch up on gossip and admire new equipment (non-broken rulers!) and hear about different protocols (writing on the white board!) and maybe even find out what some of those new mystery items are. Everyone continues to be awesome and interesting and talented and supportive and I can’t imagine that’s ever going to change but that’s always going to be part of my annual wrap-up. The people rock. They work hard and they have fun. I’m thrilled to be a part of it, even a tiny, secret, little part. And I hope that I get to stay a part of it for a nice long time. Happy end of the year, hope we all survive the next one relatively unscathed…

COMMISSARY!

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ALAN                                                                                                                                                                   In their simplest form the things that top my best of 2016 goes as 🐛🐡🎤👻🐜🤖👽 . These little emojis represent the collective that is Commissary! Total strangers went from sitting at a long table sniffing teas and sampling chocolates to besties slinging dranks and having Robyn dance parties while closing.

Also; Pizza. Fucking. Day. If there was ever an example of how we can turn chaos in a beautiful experience for us and our amazing custies.
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KATHLEEN                                                                                                                                                 Getting to know this bunch of kind, strange, generous, hilarious, hardworking people has been far and away the brightest spot in an otherwise prickly 2016.

In May, I was plopped in the middle of Commissary!, a perfectly teal cafe, surrounded by the warmth of like minded strangers and the coffee scented glimmer of new opportunity.  We have wiggled our way through the magical befuddlement of opening a new business together- the taste tests, early mornings, the whoopsies and the perfect serendipities.  We’ve had a lot of coffee and made a lot of mac and cheese.  And it has all bred so much more growth than I anticipated.
Favorite things include: learning coffee, learning vegetables, learning to be a better me under pressure.  Friendships.  I have developed a far more intimate relationship with an espresso machine than I ever thought possible.  Our work rarely feels like work, but it’s the kind of work that brings that rare and satisfying joy that accompanies pride in your job.  I am inspired by my coworkers,  empowered by my bosses, enamored with our product, and grateful for all of our patient and lovely customers.  All in all, Commissary! has been one of those inexplicable, don’t-know-how-I-landed-here-but-I’m-sure-glad-I-did experiences and I can’t wait to see whats in store in 2017.
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RACHEL                                                                                                                                                                 I started this year with absolutely no idea where I’d end up. I’m so glad it was here!

I love the feeling of never ever dreading coming to work, never begrudgingly doing a task.  I love that I want to go in on my days off just because I miss it. I love talking to Jacob about coffee and also playing 20-questions with him to figure out that we were getting new, better, sink-drain stoppers.  I love talking to Lagusta about food and I am so grateful for the new things I learn every day. More highlights include:
-Coming in to Commissary when the power was out to keep Chrissy company and making shadow puppets on the ceiling
-Improving my knife skills?
-Chopping maybe a hundred onions but still not knowing how to do it in the cool, fast way like in the videos
-Making cat latte art with Sam
-Getting to know regular customers
-Eating some kind of soup every day, or beans, #beansarequeens
-Every single, incredible show that Kate has organized
-Everyones’ transition from strangers to friends
-Flinging a pomegranate aril that was trapped in my scarf onto Adrienne when I came into LL one day
The whole year has been a highlight.  I’m really happy I get to be a part of it.
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ILIANNA                                                                                                                                                               I can finally be proud of my job! Commissary! is the ONLY physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy and supportive work environment that I have been in. Seriously, its amazing to be a part of. Lagusta, from the get-go, has been and continues to be so hands on, patient, and understanding with me as I become more aquatinted and comfortable in the work environment. I was mostly vegan when I started and since working there I’ve been inspired to fully commit to being vegan by my fellow co-workers as well as Lagusta and Jacob! I know that I work at a place that cares for me and my wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of our customers and our environment. I am always talking on and on about my job with friends and family I think it gets annoying! Commissary! is a very engaging environment and I’m excited every time I come to work. I love learning new recipes and it’s kind of the best thing in the world that we serve (and I get to eat) gluten free vegan mac and cheese!!!!

Commissary! was the only place I was able to concentrate and feel calm while I did my homework this past semester. I’d have food, usually greens & beans or a mac and cheese, some tea or coffee and then I’d get to work on the mountain of reading that I had to do. When I finished the semester Kathleen and Chrissy congratulated me and told me they saw how hard I worked they were so sincere and kind it made me want to cry.

One of the best things about my time at Commissary! is being able to work with my co-workers. Alan, Rachel, Chrissy, Sam, and Kathleen are amazing and I’m so lucky to have them in my life!! I have so much love for them and I’ve never felt so welcome and included at my place of work. I see us cultivating a real sense of family and community. It’s an awesome feeling to get through a rush of customers successfully because we worked together so well. I remember the first shift that I worked with Sam and Kathleen, one of the tasks we had was to start de-stemming about a pound of thyme (which took over a week to complete). While we spent a few hours working on the thyme we had an unexpectedly great conversation about our lives and about life in general. I think since our hands were busy/on autopilot it allowed our brains to get into a deeper state of consciousness where we were able to talk at a level that was beyond a simple get to know you conversation and even though we’d just met, we talked like we had known each other for a while. Fine tuning the espresso with Jacob is always a good time and I walk away feeling more knowledgeable and confident that I am serving quality drinks. One of my favorite highlights of my time at Commissary! is Saturday taco nights with Alan after we close! I look forward to it every week!!

I know all of this probably sounds very corny but I mean it, I am so humbled and blown away that I have the privilege of working at Commissary! I feel like I’m where I am supposed to be and I don’t know what I did to get so lucky! I’m excited and really looking forward to what 2017 has to offer us (even though we’ll have a bigoted nacho cheese dorito for a president)!

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SAM                                                                                                                                                              Every moment has felt important, every shift too short, it’s so hard to concisely reflect on so much good, ahhhhh. But I’ll start at the beginning and see where it goes. I joined the team the week after Commissary! opened this May. I could have never prepared myself for how hard I would fall for this place. Joining the LL team, and specifically the comparatively small ranks of Comm, has been a highlight of my year, and probably my life tbh. Working alongside Rachel, Kathleen, Chrissy, Alan, Ilianna, and of course Jacob and Lagusta, inspired me to become the best, most authentic version of myself that I’ve ever been (even though sometimes I still get intimidated by how lovely and brilliant and wonderful everyone is — how are they real people???)

A few weeks after joining the team I heard back about an advocacy job I’d applied to prior – a position at a victim services agency working with kids (what I thought was my dream job). The team was totally supportive and understood that it was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse, so I took the job and cut down to working one weekend shift at Comm. I learned quickly that I had left my totally amazing badass radical safe life-changing job for a difficult uncomfortable hostile life-sucking one. I’ve chosen to stick it out (for now — check back in 2017), but every Saturday Rachel and Lagusta listen to me complain and validate me while I brew coffee and froth nut milk and chop mountains of garlic.

Calm-issary has been my place of solace at the end of every long and draining week and a space for personal growth and healing. The community I’ve found in the LL team is what finally drove me to cut out the last few animal products I’d been using and GO VEGAN! I’ve learned so many new recipes, techniques, and tricks that I don’t even remember how I prepared food before working here.

Okay okay I’m so off track, let’s talk highlights ummmm
-I thought I was a coffee-snob before I started here, but I’ve learned so much more about roasting and ~notes~ and how to tell whether the face I’m making is bc a shot is too sour or too bitter/what to do about it and timing a shot and perfecting the pour over and ~dialing in~

-OMG THE MAC AND CHEESE CASSEROLE. C’MON.

-I truly don’t know how I would have gotten through the Hellpocalypse that was November 9th if not for the tea and chocolate and skulls and “not my presidents” and sense of physical safety. Lagusta opened the space up for community grieving and conversation and honestly is that not the most perfect thing you can imagine on the Worst Day Ever?
-Oh oh and our lovely secret santa potluck holiday party where I laughed more in three hours than I had all year? When Alan bought me the Most Perfect And Thoughtful Gift? And Lagusta gave us all the sweetest present packages? I can’t believe all these people are real.

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-Reading Kate’s zine of the week (and then one or two more) every week.

-The Sammus show — eternal heart eyes (another hat tip to Kate for making that happen)

This year I discovered my boundless love for matcha lattes w/ homemade cashew milk, re-connected with my old flames the pignoli and rainbow cookies (my tiny Italian heart thanks you, Maresa!), and met some of the raddest people I’ll ever know.

I am so thankful that this business exists and am eternally grateful to share my time on this spinning space rock with the people who make all this magic happen. Thank you for teaching me that I don’t have to compromise – I can have my values and live by them and work for them and be supported and encouraged. I’m so looking forward to all of the incr(edible) things 2017 will bring.

CHRISSY            

IMG_2281.jpg                                                                                                                                    kind of crying a little bit thinking about how lucky i am to get to be a part of this magical chocolatey coffeebeaned world. all of it is great. all of it. my coworkers who dance to robyn as we mop the floors at night. the shows, the shows, the shows. thanks for those, kate. crying at Adult Mom and receiving a hug from lagusta, crying at Sammus, crying at Swanning and Mary Lattimore and Guilt Mountain and Long Beard. the magical afterglow feeling you get when you leave a show at commissary and you know there is good in the world and it exists right where you are. every single time a customer brought in their dog. once a bird. never a cat but we did have a couple meows at the glass door sometimes. getting to be around the most incredible people i’ve ever met. having your coworkers be your friends but also your heroes. the zine library! latte art improvement. getting better at cooking by learning from, observing, and be inspired by one of the best vegan chefs in the bizz! how lucky! figuring out that mac and cheese can be vegan and delicious and getting to eat it on my lunch breaks. the beauty that occurs at commissary after hours around candles and tables of lovely humans. being a part of something i believe in. being a part of something that does good things for the world. the morning of november 9th when a woman hugged me over the counter, both of us sobbing. acquiring a home in new paltz and feeling at home in that home. hearing a loud noise and looking out of my bedroom window to see gary the inflatable tube man. getting snuggly in my bed and knowing that lagusta is downstairs making something wild and delicious in the depths of night. hazelnut sugar plum bars. lemon poppyseed macarons. flavor notes, flavor notes, strengthening that damn palette.  ~*~*coffee shop crushes*~*~, pizza day, pickles, when lagusta learned to make memes, fresh local produce weekly! all of its been so good and i am so grateful. 

 

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JACOB                                                                                                                                                             2016 started as a dream on a walk on the beach: what could our future hold? what should we plan for and how do we make sure we’re ready to take that step? Less than a week later those non-existent plans would have to be formulated as we saw what 2016 would bring: Confectionery! and Commissary! Lagusta’s Luscious didn’t just happen, there were no plans, it was as organic and slow and deliberate as can be and allowed us years to find the best path. Confectionery! and Commissary! both went from concept to opening in 4 months…from nothing. To say it was a new (exhausting / exhilarating / terrifying / taxing) experience is beyond an understatement and to see these businesses and spaces become a reality was incredible. I was traveling most every day before we opened the two and was drawing plans, ordering equipment, securing permits, designing logos, creating menus the entire time (while also doing my traveling job.). I’m so grateful to Lagusta, Maresa, Liz (who consulted and trained for Commissary!) and John (our amazing contractor who has built everything we’ve built) for bringing these two businesses to life. For me 2016 was about the month of May when we met, trained, and welcomed into the LL world our new staff, new businesses, and new challenges.

CONFECTIONERY

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CAITLIN                                                                                                                                                         2016 has been one intense year for me,and probably everybody!. Personally, there was a lot change, but good! I moved to Brooklyn, starting training roller derby, and landed the best job I’ve ever had.

Joining the LL team and getting to witness Confectionery come to life has been amazing.

Being the chocolate lover and sugar addict that I am, I knew I was going to be in a happy place surrounded by cookies, turtles & truffles. What I didn’t know was all the love and commitment that was poured in to this business to deliver a top quality product without compromising ethics. It’s been incredibly inspiring to see how much care and respect everyone has for each other, the earth and environment. Since working here I’m learning to be more conscientious with the choices I make and where I spend my money.

I’m incredibly grateful to be part of this amazing team and can’t wait to see what 2017 will have in store  for us ( 😉 bad joke!)

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GENNA                                                                                                                                                              It’s a crazy and special thing to get to be a part of this family after fan girling it from a distance for so many years.

My highlight is getting to help be a part of the crew that has made this little ol’ space on east 9th street a haven for me, my friends, and this family. Having a space to heal, have unfiltered conversations, and eat lots of sugar has been a really wonderful and necessary thing.

Oh, and my favorites of the year have to be the pignoli cookies, that damn churro ice cream mac, croissant caramels, and my lovely “kill your local misogynists” mug from Kate.

KATIE LEE                                                                                                                                                      2016 was rough in so many ways, but being part of the LL crew (NYC, yeah!) made it a lot softer. Here are a few standout moments for me:

-when my shoe strap broke on the way to the shop one morning and I fixed it with bakery twine (and it stayed together the whole day!)
-all of the many various treats from Superiority Burger (soup! TFTs! that perfect apple Brooks gave me one time! those dang hippy wraps!)
-seeing the looks on people’s faces when they realize that everything in the shop is vegan (and also when they realize that everything is delicious)
-befriending so many talented, smart, creative, compassionate, unbelievable people both upstate and down
-the almond rhubarb birthday cake Maresa made for me
-those chipotle caramelized onion caramels, my god
I’m so grateful to have a place in this radical little sugary universe. It’s nice to be here.

VERONICA                                                                                                                                                  *The* highlight is Confectionery opening! It still feels like a dream that I get to work in the sweetest sugar-stocked shop in my favorite neighborhood.

I love my walk from the train station every day, up Broadway a block to Wanamaker Place and then down, east, as it turns into 9th street, down past the man from Veselka unloading their produce delivery, down past Superiority Burger, down to the shop. Meditations in the rhythms of daily life.

I love the vintage wallpaper and the Mitzvah Wall. I love the hazelnut sugarplum bars and the corn macarons especially. I love seeing the excitement people have when they discover every single thing in the shop is vegan.

I love our customers so much!!! They are seriously the best and that is not something I say lightly at all. They really are. I love getting to know our regulars and their flavor preferences, and I also love talking to the people who are only passing through.

I just really fucking love food, the experiences we collect in relation to things eaten, the power of food to inspire and enrich our being as we go through our lives. I absolutely love being able to be a part of that here.

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MARESA

3. Making desserts for Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary Thanksliving.
2. Working real hard for a half day then playing hooky with Kate and Olivia to go tubing on the river.
1. Opening a shop with my best friend.
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❤ ❤ ❤
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nyc
The past:
2015 (more!)
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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.

new banner copy

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!