On a rainy Saturday morning, while most college students still laid in bed asleep, New Paltz’s beloved cafe, Lagusta’s Commissary, was bustling. The cafe was a flurry of umbrellas, cups of tea, bowls of soup and soft chatter — all overseen by Lagusta’s dog who was curled up on the couch underneath a blanket watching it all.
After starting out as a small cafe and slowly growing their menu, locations and amount of consistent customers, the Commissary has outgrown the humble space it began in. At the end of February, the Commissary will expand into a space next door allowing more kitchen space and 12 more seats. But this new expansion does not come without moral conflict for Lagusta.
The Commissary will expand into a space formerly known as the Sacred Shred Boutique. It was a thrift store frequented by skaters and other thrifters alike before it closed its doors permanently on Christmas Eve of 2019. The store was one of New Paltz’s few Black-owned businesses.
“It’s sad because [the past owner] was such a lovely human being and he had the shop for 11 years and it was such a fixture of New Paltz,” Lagusta reflected. “I feel kind of weird as a white woman with a kind of fancy cafe where everything’s vegan — it’s kind of a stereotype.”
Lagusta had a long conversation with him before he left and told him she wanted to ensure that she honored the boutique. They decided to hang one of the posters that hung in the boutique inside the Commissary and to keep the same door the boutique had, along with all of the stickers that adorned it.
Inclusivity, activism and social awareness have been important to Lagusta throughout her entire life. Her mother always volunteered and had a focus on activism. Lagusta describes activism and social work throughout college as being “very much my world.” To her, the idea of separating activism from her life as a chef and businesswoman wasn’t even an option.
Accordingly, the commissary began in 2003 as a chocolate shop devoted to selling chocolate that is “militantly vegan and anti-fascist.”
The company has a strong stance on trying as hard as possible to use food that is ethically made. This stance is informed by the fact that many foods that have vegan, organic or fair trade certifications are still unethically made, whether it’s because of inhumane working conditions or other reasons. Lagusta highlights that it’s important to look beyond an organic certification because “there is nothing in the organic certification about human rights.”
This level of reflecting as deeply as possible and empathetic leading is the heart of Lagusta’s motivations. Her primary goal has always been activism, her love of cooking came later and afterwards she entered the world of business. When she began the Commissary, the voice in her head beckoned, “If you don’t have these values that you start out with, what’s the point?”
For some people, these values help them to decide to give their money to an establishment so focused on activism and ethical consumption. But for some, these values don’t play any role in their decision to dine in.
When asked if their values impacted his thoughts on the business, Simon Lee, second-year English major, said “No I don’t care one bit. I like the massive windows and how they always steam up in the winter so you can’t quite tell who’s inside.”
With their big expansion occurring in less than a month, Lagusta’s Commissary is ready to welcome plenty more customers and workers, as they are also hiring! You can find the cafe and the chocolate shop in town just off of Main St., as well as their joint store with macaron shop, Sweet Maresa’s in Manhattan.