At Myzel's Chocolate & Gifts, visitors are welcomed with an intoxicating waft of cocoa and the warm greeting of a cheerful woman stationed behind the candy-cluttered counter. Meet Kamila Myzel. She has owned and run the Midtown chocolate shop along with her mother, Lucy, for the past 20 years. Kamila emigrated from Poland in 1980, bringing with her an old-world sensibility. (Lucy joined her daughter in the United States a few years later.) The traditional European chocolatiers hand make their own truffles, nut bars and cookies—including one of Kamila's favorites, "the ultimate cookie," a chocolate-dipped, walnut-studded treat made from a recipe that was handed down by her grandmother. Desserts like these come with a certain special something, a personal touch that works its way from the heart of New York City into the hearts and bellies of regulars and visitors alike. We had the chance to chat with Kamila about life at the tiny shop, American holidays and, of course, her delicious confections.
What inspired you to go into the dessert business?
Kamila Myzel: When I was growing up, my grandmas and great-aunts were bakers and cooks, and I was watching them. I remember my grandmother always had a big beautiful tin of cookies sitting next to the spitfire oven. This always stays in my head.
How did you feel when you first arrived in New York?
KM: I was scared to death. I didn't speak English. I spoke German, so my first job was at a German restaurant on the Upper East Side—on 86th Street in Germantown. That was the 1980s. After that, I went to Hunter College to study. I took over the shop [which originally opened in the 1960s under a different family name] in 1990. The couple [who owned it] wanted to retire. I was looking for a job in The New York Times, so I took it over.
What do first-time Myzel's customers absolutely have to try?
KM: Definitely our cookies. I bake my cookies, and my mother bakes her cookies. I'm using some of my grandma's recipes. People have liked them for years and years. I really love dark chocolate and nuts, so anything with dark chocolate and hazelnuts or almonds—this is mine! And the truffles with alcohol—I love it! We also have over 60 different licorices, and I just love licorice. I am a licorice connoisseur.
There are different flavors of licorice?
KM: Licorice is like a wine. From one grape you can make many varieties. From one licorice root you can make many varieties. Licorice is a very healthy product. It's very good for digestion.
What sets you apart from the bigger shops?
KM: I think we put a more personal touch into it.
Do you make everything on-site?
KM: We do a lot of the chocolate, and we bake all of our cookies. For the holidays, we do different surprises: for Christmas, we do beautiful packaging and chocolate Santas; for Halloween, we do witches, spiders and cats; and for Thanksgiving, it's turkey, turkey, turkey! Everybody skips from Halloween to Christmas right away. They do nothing about Thanksgiving, which I think is the most beautiful American holiday. I disagree with the commercialism. Why do we jump to Christmas? No, no. I have to have my Thanksgiving.
Which is your favorite holiday to prepare for?
KM: I would say Thanksgiving and Halloween. The store is incredibly crazy when it's Halloween. I collect witches, so you see so many witches. All of the holidays have a special spirit. We change the spirit in the shop, and you can feel that.
Do you meet a lot of tourists working here?
KM: We do have tourists coming from different countries and different cities of the United States. I'm a people person. I just love people.
Would you say that you bring a family feeling to Midtown?
KM: Of course. I'm an old-fashioned person, and I like that. I love modern stuff as well, but these old-fashioned places are disappearing. I like the coziness.