Chocolate causes certain endocrine glands to secrete hormones that affect your feelings and behavior by making you happy. Therefore, it counteracts depression, in turn reducing the stress of depression. Your stress-free life helps you maintain a youthful disposition, both physically and mentally. So, eat lots of chocolate!
— Elaine Sherman,
“Book of Divine Indulgences”
Chocolate-lovers are in luck with the recently opened artisan-chocolate boutique Lagusta’s Luscious at 25 North Front Street in the Village of New Paltz. Lagusta Yearwood and her partner Jacob Feinberg-Pyne were able to purchase the circa-1890 brick former Central Hudson station on North Front Street and renovate it into a mini-Willie Wonka-chocolate dream world this past June.
Unlike Wonka, Yearwood’s chocolates are made with all organic ingredients, using almost all local, seasonal ingredients from various community-supported agriculture (CSA) farms or fair-trade companies, and are so wildly unique and delicious that her customers anxiously await the announcement of the “Chocolate of the Month.” This November it’s a vegetable-based painted pumpkin-shaped sweet made with local maple cream, whisky from Tuthilltown Spirits, squash, chestnuts, cocoa butter and something secretly magical that makes the autumnal bonbon melt in one’s mouth with an explosion of scrumptious flavors.
While the display case has new chocolates, truffles, bonbons, chocolate bark, croissants and baked goods every day, there are seasonally thematic Luscious creations that follow the local harvests. Yearwood points to a delicately arranged plate of small wonders called “A Walk in the Woods.” These bonbons contain all local cranberries, juniper berries and apple cider, and “taste and smell like a walk in the woods at this time of year,” said Yearwood, who used to run her own meal-delivery service complete with a variety of vegan dishes — again, made from all locally, organically grown ingredients.
“Ten years ago, Jacob and I decided to make truffles for our families for the holidays,” she recalled. “Since we’re both vegans, we found it so fun and rich and decadent. I was working full-time with my meal-delivery service, but any chance I got, I would experiment with making more chocolate truffles, and had an e-mail list of mostly friends and meal-service customers where I would announce the new Chocolate of the Month and they would place their orders online.”
After a while, her chocolates became so popular and in-demand that she realized she was “working two full-time jobs! We rented a kitchen in Rosendale, were traveling back and forth and were just working all the time,” and includes her friend Maresa Volante (facebook.com/SweetMaresa) who works at Lagusta’s Luscious baking artisan cakes and cookies and cupcakes, which she has turned into a business of her own.
Yearwood and Feinberg-Pyne began to look in earnest for a building to purchase in New Paltz, where they live and dedicate themselves to the chocolate business. They found the perfect spot: 25 North Front Street, which was a laundromat for years, but had gone into foreclosure. “It was quite the journey. It took eleven months to finally close on the building, but we did, and it really is the perfect location. We’re a part of this really foodie, European-styled corridor with the Bakery, Scarborough Fare; we’re also a part of a wonderful neighborhood that extends from Historic Huguenot Street, yet we’re just a block away from the more harried Main Street. It’s great!”
Not only that, but Yearwood is a big supporter of the New Paltz community, as she is on the Town Planning Board, a huge CSA enthusiast and someone who is so excited that she can “ride my bike on the rail trail to work!”
The two of them met at college in Rochester, and when looking for a place to live permanently, discovered New Paltz just after the same-sex marriages in 2003 and “fell in love with this community and knew this is where we wanted to be.”
The building took much renovation: gutting, building a kitchen, redoing an upstairs apartment, tearing off the old siding to reveal the old brick structure (which they’re still in the process of completing) and making it attractive and inviting to the eye with a thematic brown-and-blue color scheme, Colonial cameo screened lighting, outside handcrafted benches… “That’s another thing,” said Yearwood. “We used all local contractors and woodworkers and design artists to help renovate our shop.”
Yearwood said that she “loves being part of the New Paltz community, and now the business community. We want to do more and more events and collaborations to support our local economy, our local businesses and community. This is such a special place, and we’ve been received with such a warm response. We have kids from the karate school running over after practice, neighborhood people who stop by every day, as well as our regulars, tourists, foot traffic, those that follow us on Facebook. This is an incredible place to live!”
She lives, breathes and dreams chocolate, as well as social activism: a seeming oxymoron that really begins to make sense when one talks to Lagusta (pronounced La-GUS-tah). “I always imagined myself as this professional activist, but then I found my real passion was food,” she mused. “So I approach my business with an activist lens, and want to make sure that whatever I create is something that reflects my values.” That is why her company uses locally harvested ingredients, and if they’re not available, then they utilize fair-trade company ingredients; and why she packages her bonbons in aesthetically stunning recycled paper and cardboard products; and why her store promotes other locally owned businesses, books and community events.
To learn more about Lagusta’s Luscious, visit her 25 North Front Street chocolate laboratory and delightful boutique from noon to 7 p.m. seven days a week or follow her on Facebook at Bluestockingbonbonsbylagustalucious, or her website at www.bluestockingbonbons.com. ++