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Welcome to the First Dessert Shop in L.A. Dedicated Entirely to S’Mores

3:09 PM PDT on June 19, 2018

    [dropcap size=big]F[/dropcap]irst, let's get the puns out of the way. Less is s'more. S'more than you know. A sight for s'more eyes. Gotta have s'more. That last pun though. Gotta Have S'more is not just a play on words. It's the name of, as far as I can tell, the world’s first shop dedicated totally to s'mores.

    The bakery just opened on Fairfax Avenue in Little Ethiopia. Now the campy confection will take its place alongside restaurants more known for serving up East African delicacies such as wat and injera.

    The menu at Gotta Have S’more includes salted caramel s’mores, Mexican hot chocolate s’mores, Nutella s’mores and more. At the gooey center of the new restaurant is chef-owner Annalisa Johnson. Opening a brick-and-mortar store is the culmination of a culinary career that started off at Taco Bell.

    Gotta Have S'mores owner Annalisa Johnson/Photos by Lena Nozizwe.

    “It feels like magic,” she tells me on the shop’s recent opening day.

    Johnson, the only child of a gourmand mother and a talent agent father, grew up in The Valley. Her father represented the likes of Rick James, Teena Marie and Prince, via the William Morris Agency.

    While she hung out with stars, and even Prince (here’s a childhood photo with proof), the get-real ethos of her household meant that when she wanted a designer outfit her parents told her she had to work for it.

    That’s how she ended up fudging her age on her application to get a job at Taco Bell at just age 14. Her next big gig took her on the road when Marie went out on tour. When she got back to Los Angeles she returned to the food business, but this time as a waitress.

    Johnson says she loved the job but one day she was let go. “It was the best thing that would ever happen to me,” says Johnson as she stands in front of her new restaurant. “Who would have known that it would have turned into this?”

    [dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he success that followed can be measured in refrigerators. In her Santa Monica apartment, she started a gourmet diet food delivery business long before it was a thing. Before long she had to add a second fridge to stash all the food she was preparing for her growing list of clients. Then three, then four.

    Celebrity clients, including Forest Whitaker, Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey, helped fuel an expansion. Demand became so high the capacity of her four fridges was not enough, so Johnson moved into a commercial kitchen in Culver City in 2005.

    There would be more growth. She started a catering company, Annie’s Edibles, specializing in soul food. The next step was getting into the s’mores trade.

    The staff at Gotta Have S'mores.
    The staff at Gotta Have S'mores.

    About a week before the opening of Gotta Have S’more, I sat with Johnson inside the still-unfinished interior. It was so deconstructed that she preferred that I not take any photographs yet. But I did get a snapshot of the demand for her s’mores. As we spoke she noticed a young man circling around her street entrance. She got up and asked what he was looking for.

    “S’mores,” he says. Of course.

    Even though the bakery wasn’t technically open, Johnson made sure he was able to buy some.

    S’mores may be on track to become the tiramisu of our time. Even the high-brow Bon Appétit magazine namechecked the singed sweet last summer. There’s a reason the very word s’more is a contraction of “some” and “more.”

    Five million served

    So far Johnson and company have served up five million s’mores and counting, largely through shipping orders.

    The back of the house crew is diverse and very much a reflection of Los Angeles. “She always wants to include me in everything, She always says I am her right-hand person, which is amazing,” says Gloria Barranco, Johnson’s aide-de-camp.

    Johnson, who is white, says that’s due to the influence of her dad. “I was really taught to love a little bit of everyone. I was blessed to have a father who brought everybody into my life,” she says.

    She grew up in surrounded by show business and her celebrity roster of clients has grown to include Robert De Niro, Cher, Stevie Nicks, Andre 3000, and Queen Latifah. Yet the only names she drops when we speak belong to her staff. Many of her employees found their first jobs with Johnson.

    The reality of the job market is that for some applicants not having a track record is the problem. For others just plain having a record is the barrier.  Not at Gotta Have S’more.

    “Who doesn’t need a second chance? I’ve had second chances and third chances. Everybody here has messed up in some part of their life, but nobody cares here,” says Johnson.

    More than one employee, as well as Johnson, told me they feel like family at the shop. Johnson continues to operate her soul food catering business in the kitchen of Gotta Have S’more.

    One of her specialties is the s’mack ‘n cheese — her version of mac and cheese. In the words of longtime customer Lakeisha Barrett: “That ain’t mac and cheese. It’s s’mack ‘n cheese. It’s the bomb dot com.”

    The single mother also brings her son Nicolas into the mix. The 11-year-old even came up with an addition to the s’more menu. It’s called the s’mookie. It’s a little brother to the s’more, only it replaces the graham cracker with a cookie.

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