Liddabit’s Origin Story

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Photo credit: Greenpoint Gazette

It’s a question I get asked probably more than any other: so, how did Liddabit Sweets come about?

Jen and I were both career changers. After I graduated from college (acting school at NYU), I took a media-research job to pay the bills and got stuck there. After a couple of years I was miserable enough that I decided it was time for a change. I missed working with my hands; I missed making tangible things. I was in a relationship with a serious foodie at the time, and really loved all the dinner party prep and baking projects I took on in my spare time. So – pastry school it was.

For Jen’s part, she had spent several years in politics, fundraising for several campaigns; but she nursed a very serious cookbook habit (over 2,000 at one point, and she’s building back up to it, believe you me) and would cook and bake at home to unwind. After a move to California and another unfulfilling job at a global insurance firm – and ever more cookbooks and kitchen projects – she realized she had been ignoring her calling for too long.

So, she started researching pastry schools. And I started researching pastry schools. And, in New York City and Ann Arbor respectively, we compared and contrasted and settled on the International Culinary Center (then the French Culinary Institute).

Jen and I, as well as our partner and Ops Manager Joan, met in October 2007 in the 10-month night class at ICC, and the three of us hit it off pretty quickly. Jen and I in particular would meet up before class to check out the latest banh mi or dumpling spot she’d discovered, bounce recipe ideas off of each other, give feedback on each others’ projects. We figured out we worked exceptionally well together while kicking ass and taking names during ICC’s particularly brutal Bread units; when you have a biga to precisely weigh and mix, pain de mie in the oven and focaccia proofing for a second time in the cabinets (or was it the first proof?)…things got a little hectic. But we kept it together and never once got in a fight.

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And after ten long months of working full-time day jobs and attending 12 hours of class per week in the evenings (plus homework!), we graduated: Jen at the top of the class with a near-perfect grade, and literally every award that could be given – top showpiece honors, perfect attendance, and outstanding volunteer time – and Joan and I in close pursuit.

Jen spent three months externing full-time at Per Se while working nights and weekends in the pastry kitchen at Brasserie 8 1/2, and then decided she needed a break (85-hour weeks will do that to a person) and went back home to Michigan to recharge her batteries.

In the meantime, I had parlayed an internship at Roni-Sue’s Chocolates into a more-or-less full-time job working the counter and doing production (often concurrently; Rhonda’s original space in Essex Street Market was about 100 square feet). I loved my job, and Jen had found her true home in restaurant kitchens. Happily ever after, right?

Well, almost…

As much as we loved our respective lines of work, food production is a very repetitive and sometimes boring occupation. After Jen moved back to New York we kept meeting up and tried to figure out ways to work on a separate project together. Nothing big; just something to let us flex our creative muscles and maybe make a little extra scratch on the side.

It was in the winter of 2008 that we first heard about the Brooklyn Flea Market. Neither of us had attended its inaugural season, but we’d heard of Mast Brothers and Nunu Chocolates and McClure’s Pickles, and it seemed to be a cool place to set up shop with some homemade wares and try to make a buck [HAHAHAHAHAHAHA -Present Liz]. So we sent in an application and waited.

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Photo credit: George Gutman (my dad)

A few months later, we got a meeting with Eric Demby, one of the founders of the Flea. We scrambled to get packaging and a small line of products together (the “honey drops” and salted shortbread didn’t make the final cut), and after some very polite feedback – the Snack’r bar prototype at the time weighed a good 6 ounces and was “a little big” – were informed that we were accepted.

We had about a month to get everything together – deciding on a name (a story for another time), filing paperwork, getting our licensing and insurance ironed out – and somehow, we managed it. We didn’t make it to the first week of the market, but the following week we set up our hilariously-way-too-involved (something like this) stripey circus tent, set out our wares, and waited for the customers to arrive.

I really can’t properly convey what that first day was like. My dad was there embarrassingly snapping photos, my mom was there being embarrassingly proud of me (jk guys, I’m not embarrassed at all); we didn’t know how people would react to our candy and…you know, there were people who grumbled about the price (there always will be), but overall the reception was enthusiastic. I think we sold about 500 bucks’ worth of candy that day, which to us seemed like a fortune beyond measure. We went to Marlow + Sons to celebrate – still one of the best meals of my life.

Those first few months were confusing and heady and magical. It was an unbelievably hot summer. We participated in the third (and much-missed) UnFancy Food Show. We were approached by Workman about what would eventually become our cookbook. We were featured in one of Liza de Guia’s early Food Curated videos, and got press from New York Magazine, the Village Voice, and Serious Eats. Sure, I was living in an auto garage while going through an emotionally devastating breakup and Jen was sleeping on a friend’s couch for months on end, but we were on top of the world!

Photo credit: Donny Tsang/Foodaissance

Photo credit: Donny Tsang/Foodaissance

And then the holidays hit. Jen and I were spending 16 hours a day, seven days a week working in the kitchen and selling at the Flea’s inaugural holiday market in Manhattan. Joan would come by to help us make brittle and wrap caramels into the wee hours of the morning (she now says, “Well, it was the only way I could see you guys!”), and somehow we made it into 2010 – hiring Joan to come on full-time shortly thereafter.

The full evolution of our company is another story, one that’s still being written (and in any case too long to get into now). But after spending five years bopping around different kitchen spaces in Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy, Sunset Park, and Bushwick, we were finally able to sign our lease at Industry City and make a home for ourselves.

It’s been a wild and crazy ride, to be sure; and one with as many soul-gutting lows as life-affirming highs. But if you ask any of us if we’d do it all over again, the answer would be yes.

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