If you haven’t yet heard of Lagusta’s Luscious chocolates, you’re forgiven. Unless you travel up to New Paltz regularly or frequent the monthly pop-up markets at Bushwick’s Pine Box Rock Shop, they might not have entered your world. But once they do, there’s no going back. The shop is centered on organic, fair-trade ethics and uses the Hudson Valley’s bounty to create incredibly inventive flavors: a smoky corn on the cob bar, a sea salt shiitake truffle, a thyme caramel.
Their under-the-radar existence may be ending, though: Lagusta’s has come south, opening up Confectionery tomorrow, May 5 at 440 East 9th Street in partnership with Sweet Maresa’s, maker of gorgeous macarons, cookies and cakes. It’ll be a one-minute walk from Superiority Burger, making Avenue A and East 9th the city’s new center of vegan gluttony.
It’s been a crazy time for the shop’s founder, Lagusta Yearwood, who’s simultaneously opening a savory café (and ‘zine library) in New Paltz called Commissary, but she took the time to tell us how their Manhattan space came to be and how she’s growing her business sustainably.
Edible Manhattan: Why is now the right time to open a New York City store?
Lagusta Yearwood: Maresa [Volante] has a baking business, Sweet Maresa’s, in the Lagusta’s Luscious space, and my partner Jacob and I were talking idly one day about whether or not we’d ever want to open a retail space in New York City. So many of our customers are from the city, and honestly we sort of loved it when customers would come in and say, “This place would do so well in Brooklyn!” and we could tell them how much we love being in New Paltz—we love being upstate, near the farms we buy fruit and herbs from and with foraging opportunities all around us. And we love that while a vegan, organic, fair-trade chocolate and macaron shop might be expected to be in Brooklyn if it’s going to be anywhere, we’re thriving in a little town in upstate New York.
But for the first time in the thirteen-year history of my business, I felt like we had such a great crew and such efficient ways of working that I could see how we could be producing more confections than we were. It’s a weird feeling. My business grew so organically and was so defiantly small that it was weird to think about voluntarily expanding—whenever we’ve expanded in the past it’s been because we had to to survive, and I believe so much in resisting the urge to grow just because you can. At the same time, I want to provide good careers for my team, and I came to understand that the best way to do that was to ramp up production a bit, to ensure that during the slow season (the summertime) everyone could still work full-time. Maresa does pop-up markets in the city almost every week, and since so much of her customer base is down here it made sense for her to have a permanent space. I’ve watched her grow her business for years, and it’s time she has a wider audience.
We all agreed if we opened a space in the city it had to be Manhattan. Maresa grew up on Staten Island and Jacob lived in Manhattan (um, in the Chelsea Hotel) as a kid. We’ve all worked in Manhattan over the years, and I went to culinary school in Chelsea. We also loved the defiant aspect of opening such a seemingly Brooklyny place in Manhattan. Just for fun, we started researching spaces. We all instantly agreed the East Village was where we wanted to be—away from the mallification and in what might be the last “affordable” (I use the term lightly) neighborhood. We kept telling ourselves we were just poking around and comparing prices and looking at spaces for fun, but one day we found a 280 square foot former deli on 9th Street and A that felt good. We realized we were no longer messing around—we really wanted this. So we went for it.
I love our neighborhood. I think even though so much of the gritty Patti Smithesque East Village energy has been lost, it’s managed to retain a mix of independent, unique small businesses. It’s a livable neighborhood. And even though we don’t necessarily play up the vegan aspect of our businesses (it’s more fun to cater to a non-vegan crowd and blow their minds), it’s been a vegan mecca for years—Jacob and I used to come to the old Kajitsu location once a month, and now there’s Superiority Burger a few doors down and Avant Garden around the corner, my friend Scott just helped open 00 + Co, and so many more. We’ve already become friends with so many of our neighbors, and everyone’s been so kind and welcoming.
EM: What have been the biggest challenges to opening this shop alongside the Commissary upstate?
LY: Exactly that! Opening two businesses at once has been ridiculous. No one should attempt it. Luckily Maresa has been shouldering a lot of the work for Confectionery since she’s not involved as much with Commissary, so that’s been lifesaving. And everyone who works at the chocolate shop has been running it so smoothly that I basically just get there in the morning and do paperwork and make phone calls and yell about how much things cost while they’re the ones actually making and shipping chocolates all around me. I’m constantly saying “Confectionery” when I mean “Commissary” and vice versa, so everyone having to listen to my stressed-out brain that can no longer form a lucid sentence has been a challenge, without a doubt. At the same time, it’s been amazing—like those last few weeks of finishing your thesis in college, only times ten. Like everyone in the food world, I’m a junky for adrenaline, so when I’m not having a nervous breakdown I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
EM: What can customers expect? Will there be anything different or special from the New Paltz shop?
LY: At our upstate shop we only have a small amount of Sweet Maresa’s macarons and nothing else of hers on display, but here half the shop is hers, so there will be twenty or more varieties of macarons all the time, plus cookies and special baked goods. Her work is unbelievable—she perfected her macaron recipe for two years straight, and it blows my mind every time. I’m so excited she has a bigger showcase for her stuff.
Chocolate-wise we’ll also have everything we have in our New Paltz shop—lots of bonbons by the piece, bars, barks, boxes, with an emphasis on caramels and practically savory chocolates like the smoky corn on the cob bar. We’ll have samples every day and special seasonal chocolates rotating all the time. Maresa and I will be in the shop working about every week and Veronica, my very first employee who I hired when she was 17 almost a decade ago, will be working most of the time. Full circle!
EM: What are you most excited about with this opening?
LY: This is so cheesy, but I grew up in Arizona and even when I worked and went to school in Manhattan Jacob and I lived in Jersey, so I just feel sort of honored to be asked to the party, you know? Or to have sort of elbowed our way in, as one does. I grew up on a diet of Woody Allen movies and JD Salinger books, so I’m still starry-eyed and in love with the city, even though I’ve been coming here regularly for almost twenty years. We did a winter market in Bryant Park last holiday season, and one day I saw all these skyscrapers reflected in the display case filled with weirdo chocolates I’d dreamed up in New Paltz, and I got this giddy childish thrill. The city! I’m also really excited to have a key to a clean bathroom with nice soap I can use when I come into the city to see shows.
EM: And what are you most nervous about?
LY: I’m nervous about our plate-glass window getting graffitied again and it costing hundreds of dollars to replace it, but other than that I’m not especially nervous, though maybe I should be. My whole life of working for myself I’ve just put one foot in front of the other and thrown my whole heart into it and hoped that made up for the lack of start up capital or business sense, or lefty politics that might turn people off. Maresa’s done the same thing. We’re doers. So we’re just here, doing our thing, a bit south of where we usually do it.