Photos courtesy of Catskill Chocolate Co.
Can’t get enough of creamy, dreamy cocoa? Head to Catskill Chocolate Co. for inventive flavors and utterly delightful treats.
By Anthony Minda and Gillian Telling
Catskill is booming—thanks to inspired locals and out-of-towners willing to invest in the historic town’s potential. Catskill Chocolate Co., a new patisserie and small-batch chocolate shop on Main Street, is certainly one of the village’s sweetest additions.
The shop and café, which opened last March, is the brainchild of three Catskill natives: Lauren Robbiani, Natasha Witka Amanna, and Nicole Mower, who, along with another close friend, Lauren Caspar, decided they wanted to bring “something beautiful to our hometown.” In high school, Robbiani and Amanna had both worked at the local Candyman Chocolates shop, learning how to make ice cream and fudge. During the pandemic—brimming with ideas and suffering from boredom—Amanna mentioned she wanted to bring back chocolate and sweets to Catskill.
“[At Candyman], I learned how to work with ice cream, with confections, with chocolates, with enrobing, and making fudge and things like that…really old recipes,” Robbiani says.
Robbiani and Caspar, who both had plenty of restaurant experience, advised Amanna to first research ingredient sourcing and fair-trade methods. “Chocolate can be problematic when it comes to things like child labor and other ethical issues,” says Robbiani. “I told her she’d need to vet her sources and suggested she use local dairy and other ingredients that were processed in the cleanest possible ways. She asked me, ‘OK, so do you want to be my partner?’” The four women teamed up—but they still needed to find the perfect location for the shop.
For locals and visitors in Greene County, Catskill Chocolate Co. is situated in a 200-year-old corner storefront in town.
“Growing up, I’d drive by [the current] space and think ‘I want to go in there!’ but it was always an auto-parts store or a real estate office,” says Robbiani of the corner storefront, “I could see the potential in it.” In early 2022, a furniture store had vacated the space, so they took over the lease and began a gut renovation, keeping an old-school Catskill vibe in mind. “We’re into historical preservation. There used to be these soda fountain shops in Catskill, like JJ Newbury and the Mayflower Café, that I’d go to with my grandparents. I wanted to harken back to that, but without being an ‘olde timey chocolate shoppe,’” adds Robbiani.
While a kitchen was being built, Robbiani sourced antique countertops from Vermont, white-washed the bricks, and spent months painting an intricate Moroccan-style tile pattern on the floor. “I had no experience!” she says with a laugh. “It was all just super DIY.”
Last March, Catskill Chocolate Co. was finally ready to open its doors. Inside you’ll find displays of handmade, small-batch chocolates such as nonpareils and smoked butterscotch creams, plus a selection of local goods like caramels, Hilltop Honey, pastries, and iced cookies from Amanda Hummel, a cookie decorator from Hudson. And since no café is complete without coffee, Catskill Chocolate Co. sells coffee drinks made with Hudson’s Strongtree Coffee Roasters beans, which have developed a cult following.
“We have fudge, truffles, creams, jellies, peanut butter cups” Robbiani enthuses. She continues, including “desserts like peanut butter pie, cookies, brownies, and all the fun things like that. There will be classic flavor profiles and also some experimental ones.”
Along with all these sweet treats and offerings, the shop also sells gelato.
“Right now we have vanilla bean gelato. And it’s amazing,” Robbiani notes. Along with its vanilla offering, the store is working to make classic Italian flavors like hazelnut and pistachio. Plus, as seasons change, so do cravings. During the hotter months, the team is planning to make peach and cream and lavender with fresh fruit. On top of it all, the shop is working on selling ice cream cakes, (or in this case, gelato cakes).
“We’ll have lavender fudge. We’ll [also] have the Americana which is going to be a classic vanilla and chocolate gelato with fudge and cookie crumbles,” Robbiani says.
The delightful chocolates and sweets sit inside stunning glass and wood cases and cabinets at the Hudson Valley store. Mirrors are scattered all over the walls, and the floor tails are hand painted as well. Everything at Catskill Chocolate Co. is handpicked, with many pieces obtained from various auction houses. The team’s vision for the shop’s interior was to draw inspiration from old Catskill, harkening back to some decades prior.
“Catskill used to have really beautiful fountain shops and amazing, charming locations. So we were using that as inspiration,” Robbiani explains.
“People seemed really happy to see that our shop was built by Catskill natives,” says Robbiani, whose mom—a former high school teacher who knows everyone in town—is often working behind the counter. Customers were soon asking for sandwiches and savory goods, so in addition to the sweet stuff the menu often features quiches, hand pies, smoked salmon and herb sour cream on brioche, and mozzarella and tomato on ciabatta. “The townsfolk really appreciate us, because it’s a place where they can hang out,” says Caspar, “And there are a lot more tourists coming through who find it really charming.”
As for what’s next? A liquor license, perhaps. “We’ll have an espresso martini!” exclaims Robbiani. They also hope to build an organic wine bar. “Tasting wine with chocolate pairings is a really interesting, South American thing,” she says.
Overall, they want to focus on serving their community and meeting everyone who walks through the door. “It’s just a joy,” says Caspar. “We have a huge cross-section of people coming in with different beliefs and backgrounds, and we want to serve and remain accessible to everyone. Having this type of community makes you feel so much less alone after the years in lockdown.”