June 07, 2018 11:42 AM

The world knew Kate Spade as a successful businesswoman, trailblazing entrepreneur and a designer with a quirky, optimistic eye, but “many might not know Katy made the best lasagna,” her longtime best friend Eleni Gianopulos tells PEOPLE.

Gianopulos, the owner of N.Y.C.’s Eleni’s Cookies, had been close with Spade for more than 20 years, launching their companies about the same time in the early ’90s; Gianopulos started her catering business at Spade’s suggestion. In a 2002 story about Spade in InStyle, the writer noted that Spade and Gianopulos’ Hamptons homes were right down the street, and “on a typical weekend afternoon Eleni will come over to test-drive new pastries while Kate makes place cards using crayons and seashells.” The same year, PEOPLE profiled Gianopulos’ business and pointed out the bakery was selling hand-iced cookies in the shape of her friend’s iconic bag.

In a statement to PEOPLE, Gianopulos (below left) shared fond memories of her friend (whom she called Katy, the name Spade was known by growing up) following the news of the designer’s suicide Tuesday.

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“Katy and I met through our husbands’ mutual friend when we were all starting out in New York after college,” Gianopulos wrote. “We became the closest of friends and basically grew up together. We started our businesses around the same time and I remember Katy initially steaming and shipping the handbags out of her own apartment. As we didn’t have kids at the time, we both were working hard at our new companies and we would meet out almost every night at 9 or 10 o’clock to unwind. We both learned to entertain together.”

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Gianopulos also referred to the wicked wit remembered by many who loved Spade (including brother-in-law David Spade, who wrote “She was so sharp and quick on her feet. She could make me laugh so hard.”).

“Katy had the best sense of humor and could tell a story better than anyone I know, leaving us all in stitches,” Gianopulos said. “We would travel together every holiday. Katy had an editor’s eye for hotels, local crafts and beaches. I have some hilarious stories from the Twin Dolphin hotel in Cabo but can’t share them; I will cherish them forever.”

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Spade leaves behind husband Andy and 13-year-old daughter Beatrix Frances, and Gianopulos says she “grieves for Andy and Bea’s loss.” She’s also very much in mourning herself: “She was the most trusted friend. I loved her like a sister.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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