Today we are joined by Lauren Ocello of Twidley Bits. Twidley Bits is a labor of love from this former chocolatier and takes the best the season has to offer and turns them into scrumptious jams, fruit butters, pickles and plant-based cheeses that you and your loved ones can enjoy all year long. They help you put breakfast on the table, snacks on the buffet, and treats in everyone’s tummies that everyone can feel good about.
Listen to Episode 88 with Lauren Ocello!
- Lauren has lived in Chicago since 1999, and began career in education and history. But, she has always loved being in the kitchen and so decided to go to the French Pastry School in Chicago and received her certificate in Bakery and Pastry, and worked as a chocolatier for three and a half years, where she produced chocolate bon bons, bars, dipped items, as well as caramels, marshmallows, and more. At the beginning of 2019, she decided to branch out on her own, and thus, Twidley Bits was born. Twidley Bits is a phrase Lauren has used for a while, and describes “fun little extra things.
- Twidley Bits products she offers are jams, fruit butters, pickles, and vegan cheeses. From Thai-spiced watermelon rind pickles to blackberry/raspberry jam or apple butter, she offers adventurous and traditional flavors. There is something for everyone, at every age!
- Lauren herself is a lactose-intolerant vegan, so she wanted to produce food that she can eat, and likes to eat. She noticed that vegan cheese is something that is usually either very expensive and high quality…or the opposite. She doesn’t want people to have to settle for lower-cost and lower quality, so she produces a vegan cheese that is high-quality, and moderate in price.
- In the podcast recording session, Lauren brings her a vegan chevre (typically a soft goat cheese.) The process of making vegan cheese begins with finding a vegan cow…just kidding! There are soy and cashew based vegan cheese options, but Lauren produces almond based vegan cheese. She prefers the taste and the texture. The product demands the form of almonds, it could be almond meal for chevre and cream cheese, for ricotta she soaks slivered almonds which allows for spreading. At Andersonville Arts Week + Fest she brought garden veggie cream cheese and pickled onions. Lauren’s first event was with us at Arts Week + Fest. She featured pickled okra and fig jam as samples, which are hard to ignore and had a great crowd.
- Just starting, the first few months have been very busy. “Start your own business if you love work and hate sleep,” Lauren jokes. “But, it’s so fun, and that’s the difference. People will say if you do something you love you will never work a day in your life. That’s a lie! You will work, and you will work so hard. But you’re doing it with absolute joy and excitement.” Lauren remarks that it’s been great to be supported and promoted by the Chamber of Commerce, pop-up events, local merchants that feature her work like Helix Cafe. In fact, Lauren will be unveiling a new vegan menu (in particular that spotlights vegan cream cheese) with Helix soon!
- Lauren “tests” her ideas on neighbors and friends, and looks for what’s fresh, available and in-season. Over the summer season, she processed lots of produce for freezing so that she can use it year-round. And of course, winter lends itself to great citrus. To the studio, Lauren brought Koval bourbon, peach vanilla bean jam. It is a simple, fruit-first jam. Peaches, bourbon, lemon juice and granny smith apple are the only ingredients. Mmmmm delicious! Get some for yourself here on her website. Or reach out Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.
- Lauren has cooked out of Kitchen Chicago, in the West Loop. But just recently, moved to Mindful Baking, a shared kitchen space – only 7 minutes away and just in time for the busy holiday season! They are vegan and gluten free, and a meticulously clean operation.
- For Small Business Saturday on November 30, Twidley Bits will be at 18th at Pilsen from 10AM-10PM. Other events Lauren has coming up are the Holiday Fair at Chicago Waldorf School at Ashland and Foster, and Chicago Vegan Test Kitchen, which features vegan vendors from all over the city, featuring food, clothing, bath and beauty, and more.
- The biggest business learning curve so far for Lauren has been stepping out from the back of the house, to preparing, presenting, and selling everything herself and just being a business. Finance, marketing, sourcing, and figuring out how to do everything to the best of her ability has been the biggest challenge. Advice to others just starting out, Lauren shares, “Go to your local chamber of commerce.” And she’s not just saying that to be nice. If you don’t know where to start, they can help with starting out, licensing, event info, etc.
- If Lauren could switch places with any other Andersonville business it would be…Woolly Mammoth. You can find something for anybody there. She would love all the interesting and weird things they offer (like a squirrel rodeo), and of course, their shop dog Melvin. She’s brought home a lot from Woolly Mammoth (preserved octopus in a jar, a herbarium, a mask that she named Bartelby) and keeps it in a space, along with lots of books and a comfy chair, that she affectionately refers to as “Lauren Land.” She also has lots of Krampus memorabilia – in her opinion the best folklore around. If you’re not aware, Krampus is of German folklore, and is the anti-Santa. For bad little kids, the holidays don’t end with no treats or gifts. If you’re bad, you’re visited by Krampus – a goat demon. He’ll come to your house, beat you with sticks and drag you away in chains. Want to hear more? Be sure to tune in to #AlwaysAndersonville on December 5 for a special Holiday Edition of Lauren reading the story of Krampus.
- For the new year, Lauren will be applying for every farmer’s markets, including the Andersonville Farmers Market, and hopefully Lincoln Square, Logan Square, and Edgewater. Revolution Brewing, Chicago Vegan Test Kitchen, and Handmade Happy Hour are also new projects on the horizon.
- Find Twidley Bits on the following platforms: