Tiffany LaBanca-Madarasz thought she was going to open an art gallery. It turned into so much more.
Instead of a gallery to showcase her pressed flower art, LaBanca-Madarasz created Poppy Heart in Montauk. It’s home to a café, art studio, and retail store made with the residents of the community in mind.
“I used to rent here every summer since I was a kid, I raised my kids on these beaches, renting every summer,” says LaBanca-Madarasz, “And now that we’re full-time residents here, I want to do something for the community. So it’s got to be bigger than just my art.”
LaBanca-Madarasz previously worked for 25 years in the communications industry for big names such as IBM, Canon and PayPal. While working in the corporate world, she always found a way to be philanthropic or join mentorship programs. After turning 50, she wanted to focus on community and knew Montauk was the place to do it. LaBanca-Madarasz carried the tradition of summering in Montauk with her own children. And two years ago, she and her husband moved permanently to Montauk from Manhattan. In July 2021, Poppy Heart was born.
Located in the center of town, Poppy Heart is a versatile business. The shop, gallery and café are on the upstairs floor, while downstairs there’s a walk-in art studio. The art studio offers kits and supplies for those of any age to be creative.
“I started it for Montauk. Not for the tourism and the summer season,” says LaBanca-Madarasz, “What is there to do on a rainy day? What is there to do in the winter when nothing’s open? So that became the real community element of it.”
For 38 years, the building housed a toy store named A Little Bit of Everything, and she incorporates its legacy in Poppy Heart. In the back of the studio, there are eco-friendly nostalgic toys.
“A little bit of everything with my twist on it,” says LaBanca-Madarasz.
All the art on the walls is from local artists, and LaBanca-Madarasz partners and promotes women-owned businesses. For Small Business Saturday, Poppy Heart and other women-owned businesses in Montauk came together to raffle off prizes for those who visited participating stores. Poppy Heart also creates the art activities for the kids’ program at Gurney’s Montauk Resort and Seawater Spa.
Giving back to Montauk is one of her favorite aspects of opening a business there. For Thanksgiving last year, Poppy Heart advertised a free Thanksgiving meal for people with nowhere to go for the holiday. Six people came that LaBanca-Madarasz had never met before. After that, she delivered around 75 meals to local bars. “Little things like that make a huge impact on people’s hearts,” she says.
Her husband and kids have been supportive of her ventures. They also help in her mission to provide for the Montauk community. LaBanca-Madarasz has always heard about the stereotype of family-run businesses, but she never thought it would be as fun as it is.
Her son is a ceramicist and does all the pottery sold in the store. He’s also going to begin teaching pottery classes at the art studio. Her daughter is also an artist and runs the kids club at Gurney’s during the summer.
“They’re still my babies but they do boss me around,” says LaBanca-Madarasz.
Besides her kids, the only other people who work at Poppy Heart are local art teachers LaBanca-Madarasz brings in to teach classes. Everything at Poppy Heart is curated for the customers. LaBanca-Madarasz pours over data to ensure she brings in inventory and classes that are in demand. She also uses kids in the studio as focus groups, asking what they want.
“It’s not just about me and what I want. It’s what do the people who make this place special also want,” she says.
LaBanca-Madarasz thinks of her customers as extended family.
“These kids come to Poppy Heart and they run up the stairs and hug me and it’s the most magical thing,” she says, “I think what Poppy Heart has become is kind of like a culmination of all the things in my heart that I want to be able to give to other people.”
Poppy Heart is located at 33 Carl Fisher Plaza in Montauk and is open every day from 10 a.m.–6 p.m.