By Michael Laiskonis—ICE Creative Director
Early last year, as the ICE staff was preparing to move from the school’s longtime home in the Flatiron District of Manhattan to its newly constructed downtown facility, I was immersed in organizing the details for our unique bean-to-bar Chocolate Lab. Considering our new digs in the oldest part of the city, it hit me that perhaps we were bringing chocolate back to the neighborhood—old New Amsterdam. I began to ponder the ghosts of chocolate makers past. Surely there must have been numerous traders, processors and merchants dealing in the popular product at various points in the city’s nearly 400-year history. Little did I realize how difficult the search for answers would prove, yet what I have uncovered thus far has only reinvigorated my quest.
I’m a bit of a history buff—with interests in our culinary past, of course, but also the rich history of the vibrant city I’ve called home for over 12 years. I’ve also spent countless hours tracing my family histories back to Eastern Europe, as well as my maternal lines back to England and Holland. My ancestors arrived in the first waves of settlers in the American colonies dating back to the mid-1600s. My meandering research came quite close to home at one point—a Dutch extended cousin turned out to be a prominent businessman in 1650s New Amsterdam, operating a brewery on Beaver Street, the site occupied today by a towering office building in Manhattan’s Financial District. This personal discovery fueled my broader search for chocolate in this colonial outpost—if I could find a distant relative in the neighborhood, surely I would eventually find traces of cocoa as well. But first, I had to step back a bit further to consider the greater story of chocolate’s travels.
Keep reading to reveal the history of chocolate in old NYC.