Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sweet & Delicious Sugar Shop

Two weeks ago, I spent two glorious days trolling Brooklyn. Not only did I discover giant copper beeches in Ditmas Park and rusted out street cars in Red Hook; not only did I affirm my love for and desire to move to Brooklyn; and not only did I stumble upon a gorgeous rum distillery/chocolate factory Cacao Prieto, but I stumbled upon the adorable new candy store in Cobble Hill, Sugar Shop.

Run by Jen Bischoff and Sara Houchins, two former colleagues with awesome aesthetics and mean sugar addictions, these girls are now living the dream. It’s one I’ve been half seriously pondering after my last visit toMiette. And with their enthusiasm for and dedication to Sugar Shop, I’m all that much more inclined to think about it. Or at least fantasize more seriously about it. Bet you will, too, after hearing more from them…

Owning a cool candy store is every girl's dream (well, at least this girl's...). How did you do it?
Sara confessed that she was burnt out at work and on the verge of quitting.  When I asked her what she wanted to do she shared that she had always dreamed of owning a candy store.  Sara and I joked that we were candy soul mates.  It was obvious that I would love this idea and want to be a part of it.  We immediately set to work to make it happen.  We moonlighted researching, sourcing, and planning for months.  We found our dream space and patiently waited for the Landmark Commission to release it for use.  All in all, it was 6 months from concept to opening.

You have everything from local artisanal chocolatiers to old-timey dime-store favorites. How did you decide on your inventory?
Our first rule is that our inventory shouldn't be available at local deli's and groceries.  We want our product to be special.  The kind of candy that conjures memories and creates new ones.  We also taste everything, of course.  We have to love it.  We cater to all ages, with modern and vintage candy.  We like to think that we have "everything." Our customers rarely stump us.  We're looking into an international assortment next.

What have been the best sellers, or most popular candies?
The best sellers are a big range.  Our most popular items are sea salt caramels.  We have a few kinds in bulk, from Betsy's Buns in Brooklyn, and and also from Liddabit.  We also can't keep in the old school Peanut Chews and Nik Nips wax bottles with juice inside.  The kids love Toxic Waste and our gummy wall.

And what's been the biggest surprise so far?
The biggest surprise is that the great majority of our customers are adults buying for themselves!

Who designed your store?
When Sara spoke to me about the idea for the store, my first reaction was that I wanted to design it.  Creating our own candy wonderland was such an inspiring project.  I wanted it to have a vintage sweet shop feel with a mid-century modern edge.   I enjoyed working on all of the details, the gumball wall, vintage wall paper, striped party room, colored tables, and sparkling glasswear.  The layout and merchandising of the store was so much fun to plan.  My husband built all of our fixtures!  Sara and I painted and enlisted the help of our friends to make it all happen. This was all done after hours from our fulltime jobs!

What are your favorite neighborhood restaurants?
We love Ki Sushi, Frankies, Boca Lupo, and Petite Crevette.

What are your top three favorite candies?
Sara: Gobstoppers, gummy bears, and Sugar Babies.  
Jen: Gummy cherries, sea salt caramels, and sour belts.

I spied a party room at Sugar Shop. Can you tell us a little about parties and private event opportunities?
Our party room is so much fun!  We have all inclusive party packages that come with everything including invitations, decorations, balloons, cupcakes, refreshments, games, crafts, and goody bags.  All you have to do is show up!  We also do candy buffets, wedding favors and centerpieces.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wicked and inspiring Cacao Prieto

Everyone’s heard of Mast Brothers. Two charming, twee brothers from the Midwest. One incredible beans-to-bar factory in Williamsburg. Gorgeous packaging. Delicious products. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. The world is in love with the Mast Brothers’ chocolate bars.

But what of Cacao Prieto?? Strolling through Red Hook, there were signs of sweetness ahead. But still, I wasn’t prepared for this gorgeous distillery-factory in the middle of this barren neighborhood.

Daniel Prieto Preston, formerly an aerospace engineer and inventor (!), opened the gorgeous beans-to-bar factory in 2009. His family owns cacao plantations in the Dominican Republic, which is where his beans come from. While working with them, he noticed the alcoholic wash produced during the fermentation of the cacao seeds. This lead to a line of sweat cacao rums and the first rum distillery license in New York City since prohibition.

 Not only do they produce delicious rums and beautifully packaged 72% dark chocolate bars, with post cards designed by Brooklyn artist SophieBlackall

… but master chocolatier Damion Badalamenti also makes fresh bonbons—like the sugar-rich, rum-filled Conquistador beauties.
 All in all, an amazing dose of discovery, inspiration and deliciousness.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Cookie monsters

It's been a slow, steady descent. Ever since Paris, My Sweet launched, I have been on a tear. There have been launch parties (macarons! brownies!), promotional tours (cookies in Philly! candy in San Francisco!), and gifts galore. There has not been a lot of restraint.
I'm not a girl to say no. Especially to freshly baked cookies that come wrapped in a bow. Specifically, Levain's six-ounce juggernauts of richness, sweetness and insanity.
Chocolate peanut butter chip: rich and savory. Good protein, right??
Oatmeal raisin: perhaps the sweetest, heaviest specimens ever sampled.
Double chocolate. Double dark chocolate. Like a sweet punch to the gut.
And good old chocolate chip. With walnuts to lend some seriousness.

At my various book events, people often ask what my favorite sweet in New York City is. It's a tough question with no single answer. It depends on my mood, the time of day, how chubby I'm feeling, what neighborhood I'm in—many things. But I always come back to Levain. Connie McDonald and Pam Weekes have created something deliciously decadent and all-around wonderful in Levain.