Sugar and spice and everything nice
Alumna’s dream becomes popular downtown business
By Lily Raff McCaulou
“If you have a good product and you’re nice and friendly, you shouldn’t lack for business (in Vancouver).” ~ Tierre Benton ’11
When Tierre Benton ’11 was 45 years old, her youngest child left for college. The mother of four was unsure what to with her newfound free time. She wanted to do “something important.” But what? For a year and a half, she prayed for direction. Then one night she had a dream.
“It was like a moving picture,” she said. In it, Benton saw herself dressed in a white chef’s uniform, enrolled in culinary school.
When she woke up, Benton told her husband about her new plan. He was baffled. Sure, she enjoyed cooking. She even catered occasional church events and family members’ weddings. But—culinary school? Two weeks later, he came around. “I’m on board, 100 percent,” he told her.
Benton enrolled at Clark College, where she learned techniques for cooking for a crowd, such as making gravy in a six-gallon container in an oven. She learned the technical side of running her own business, including the math needed to scale up recipes and price a menu item.
Though Benton was a Cuisine student, she interned in the Baking program and took cake decorating and other Pastry Arts classes. Benton said she appreciated that the baking instructor at the time had an eye for detail.
“He was very strict but he taught you how to do it the right way,” she said.
As she graduated, two longtime Culinary Arts instructors retired, so Benton was hired to teach. She adjusted the curriculum to reflect trends she’d noticed at local restaurants. For example, handmade pasta was a popular menu item but she hadn’t learned pasta making at Clark. So Benton taught herself how to make pasta, then taught Clark students how to craft noodles.
Meanwhile, Benton and her daughter opened a business, baking goods in a rented commercial kitchen and selling them from a booth at the Vancouver Farmer’s Market. These humble beginnings allowed the women to avoid taking on debt. As word spread, their business grew. Soon they opened a brick and mortar restaurant, Sugar and Salt Bakery, Café and Catering in downtown Vancouver.
Benton remains committed to Clark by volunteering as a member of its Cuisine advisory committee, and said she supports changes such as adding a business class to the prerequisites. Making sure everyone has a solid foundation in math and business terminology, she believes, enables instructors to better teach the details of running a viable operation.
Benton is confident the Vancouver community supports new dining options including more bakeries. Now it’s up to Clark College to prepare the next wave of foodie entrepreneurs.
“There are enough customers to go around… If you have a good product and you’re nice and friendly, you shouldn’t lack for business here,” she said.
Lily Raff McCaulou is a journalist living in Portland, Ore. She is the author of Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner, which the San Francisco Chronicle named one of the best books of 2012. She has written for The New York Times and The Atlantic.