When you work for a small local business, chances are you’re going to wear several different hats. Diana Vassar has worn the gamut as Lick’s first employee, from flavor tester to policies maker to food photographer. The job can easily be described as frenetic, and that’s why she loves it.
“I like being involved in everything,” Diana said. “It’s really motivating to see everything running individually, all the parts, and being able to contribute to every aspect of the business.”
Let’s be honest: Diana originally didn’t want to work at an ice cream shop. The New Jersey-native had just moved from the northeast to escape the cold when she dropped off her resume with Lick’s owners, Chad and Anthony, at her pastry school’s job fair.
The two were looking for part-time help in their South Austin kitchen when they found Diana. Although her original plans were to work in a restaurant, the hours they needed fit perfectly with her schedule.
Starting as a kitchen assistant, Diana was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by the warmth of ovens and sauces on the stove. She realized that this was no ordinary ice cream shop, but one that took artistry and pride into creating everything from scratch.
“I loved working in the kitchen and singing to the radio that the [ice cream] churner had brought in,” Diana said. “And when he wasn’t there, I’d help out in the evenings, and Anthony and I would turn on the radio and sing while we worked.”
Diana was promoted to kitchen manager in March 2013, and had the process running so smoothly that she was able to help Chad and Anthony with other aspects of the business.
“It’s not necessarily that I have experience, but I have an interest in learning anything that I can in general,” Diana said.
Proof behind that was evident in the resume Diana fortuitously handed over at the job fair. Before coming to Austin, Diana had too many interests to pick a pre-defined major at New York University. Instead, she designed her own degree based around her varying interests. When she moved out of the dorms sophomore year and into her own apartment, her kitchen became her favorite classroom.
“My mom would say that I don’t like doing anything until I can do it perfectly, and so cooking from the get-go, I was sticking strictly to recipes,” Diana said. “It took years to get over the fear of going beyond the recipe.”
Deciding to keep cooking as a hobby, Diana thought she would take the academic route and become a food writer. But to be the best food writer she could and earn respect from the industry, she knew she’d continue needing kitchen experience. So she learned how to make amazing stocks during an internship. She practiced traditional cooking techniques at a restaurant in Williamsburg. She worked as a class assistant at a kitchen supply store, and watched hogs get broken down like an art form at the butcher shop next door. As she exposed herself to some of the best food and most talented people in the industry, Diana realized she was more drawn to the pastry side of the kitchen than culinary.
“One of the best analogies anybody ever told me was, ‘The culinary side is heavy metal and the pastry side is NPR.” That stuck with me for years,” Diana said. “It’s so accurate. You walk into the pastry kitchen and everybody’s really focused. It’s a very scientific process.”
Diana moved to Austin to study pastry at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, and was also working for a catering company when she got the call from Lick. She now serves as operations manager, officially making it her job to do what it takes for everything to run smoothly at their shops.
“I was always of the mindset that I was going to be that person couldn’t settle into a job,” Diana said. “And still, being in this job, I think it’s obvious that I don’t like doing the same thing every day.”
As stressful as the job can be, she admits, she can’t help but laugh when she thinks of her memories of working at Lick for the past three-and-a-half years. She talks with an infectious smile, taking pride in how far the business has come and her part in it. Diana said it couldn’t have been possible without the dedication of Chad and Anthony, and the empowerment they give to every employee who walks through their door.
“I’ve been working with them since I’ve moved here and they’re not just friends to me,” Diana said. “They’re part of my family.”