Laughing Gull has serious chocolates
I enter the brick-and-mortar storefront that is Laughing Gull Chocolates through a black framed glass door and am welcomed with friendly smiles and a delightful, savory, wafting smell of—you guessed it—chocolate. Founder and chief chocolatier Lindsay Tarnoff is quick to satisfy my caffeine urge—she doesn’t know it, but I have skipped my morning brew—and graciously brings me a foamy cup of hot chocolate. The frothy oat milk feels like a better version of whipped cream, and the rich chocolatey texture and deep mocha taste are everything I could have hoped for. “It’s really a great drink to have in the mornings,” Tarnoff explains, as we sip our cocoa at a table beside the kitchen. “Instead of a cup of coffee, the chemicals in chocolate are really good for you. There’s a little bit of caffeine, but it’s not as strong as what’s in coffee, and then there’s another stimulant called theobromine, and that provides and maintains that energy so that you don’t have a crash. It’s a good drink to give you energy throughout the day.”
Tarnoff runs Laughing Gull with Karla Carey and Allison Zukoski, two friends she met not long after moving to Rochester. Carey and Tarnoff crossed paths at Beautiful Birth Choices while both raising their newborns. The two clicked right off the bat and started working together getting the store ready for its opening. Once established, Zukoski became a frequent customer. The three connected and realized their strengths and skills really complemented each other. They also had similar parenting styles and brought their newborns to work, taking turns working in the kitchen, doing computer work, and caring for the babies. Zukoski pops into the room,“Would you like some coffee ganache?” Of course I say yes. “It’s new with Mexican coffee from Joe Bean.” I can taste the texture from the stone-ground chocolate. It is grainy and coarse but smooth at the same time. While I try not to look like a kid licking every speck off the spoon, Tarnoff explains their “Inspired by Rochester” line of chocolates. “We use local products for the different chocolates and then we give back to three different organizations—Willow Domestic Violence Center, Action for Education Equity, and Saving AJ,” Tarnoff says. “We use Chai from the Chai Guy in our Chai Truffle, which is dairy free and vegan, and we also use it in our Orange Chai Bark. The coffee ganache was from Joe Bean, and we also make a coffee truffle and a coffee square. It’s like a three-layered little bite, and we use Joe Bean coffee for that and then Sweet & Cute coffee syrup for another layer.”
Laughing Gull also donates to two national organizations. “We have a chocolate uterus, and we give back to an organization called the Afiya Center (Support Your Sistahs); it’s a national abortion fund. And we have a Pride Bark, which is a pure dark bark with all different rainbow designs on it, and we give back to the Trevor Project.” Tarnoff says.
After returning to my mug to take another sip of the steaming chocolate, I’m amazed at how this simple drink can contribute to so much good in society. But I find myself wondering, is the same true from a nutritional standpoint?
Why go for chocolate instead of coffee? Is it healthier? What makes chocolate perhaps the perfect drink? There are a lot of factors that contribute to the nutritional makeup of a cup of cocoa, so the answer to that really depends on how you decide to drink it. “For the most part, what you can buy commercially has a lot of sugar and milk powder in it, and the quantity of chocolate itself, which has all the good compounds, is very low,” Tarnoff explains. What I am drinking is still considered a healthier version of those products, but by cutting out the creamy oat milk and replacing it with water, the sugar level would be even lower.
However, Tarnoff ’s high-quality chocolate concoction is far from store bought substances. Laughing Gull originated through lofty aspirations and a deep passion that drives the productions to be exceptional.
“Growing up and in college I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Tarnoff continues. “I was working at a psych hospital in Rhode Island, and a nurse asked me ‘what do you want to do when you graduate?’ And without thinking about it, I just looked at her and said, ‘I’m going to save the world with chocolate.’ I have no idea where that came from, but it sounded like something that had meaning and that I was passionate about. And it sounded like fun.” Tarnoff has stayed true to that statement, making it a priority of Laughing Gull to bring people together with chocolate.
Another staple of Laughing Gull’s mission is to source ingredients directly and transparently. Cacao has been grown and cultivated for the past couple hundred years through exploiting land and labor. When Tarnoff realized how many adults and children were being exploited just so she could have a cup of hot chocolate, her perception changed.
“I wanted to be able to ensure I was sourcing and then consuming chocolate that didn’t entail any exploitation,” Tarnoff explains. “We source from a couple exporters that work directly with the farmers. They know them, they spend time with them, they have transparency reports and audits on who is working there and how many hours they’re working, they tell us exactly how much they’re getting paid…so we know exactly what’s happening.”
Much like coffee, chocolate comes from all different parts of the world. But what’s so cool about this is that the tastes change with the geography. “You can have coffee from Brazil or Ethiopia, and much like wine, depending on the terroir, how it’s grown, and how it’s roasted, it tastes different. One of the reasons I love doing chocolate tastings is because we can have different chocolates with the same exact ingredients from all over the world and they will taste dramatically different.”
Tarnoff incorporates these different tastes at Laughing Gull and notes that their subscription box is a fun way to taste a wide range of products they offer. Customers will receive a surprise box quarterly and can request chocolates to be vegan or allergen friendly. In terms of specifics, Laughing Gull’s Salted Carmel Chocolate is one of their best sellers, their Salted Hazelnut Bark is popular (and vegan), Meltaways make a nice hot chocolate drink, and they have a new Raspberry Chocolate Spread that can be slathered on toast or placed into coffee to make a raspberry mocha drink. Not to mention the truffles, old favorites.
Products can be purchased in store at 1868 East Main Street or ordered online at laughinggullchoclates.com.The website also provides information on a wide variety of virtual or in-person classes and workshops they offer as well as contact information for any questions you may have.