Pastries with a Purpose: Beyond a “Crime of Desperation”

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Pastries await hungry customers at C’est La Vie Baking Company. Photo by Randy Bear.

Pastries await hungry customers at C’est La Vie Baking Company. Photo by Randy Bear.

Randy_BearWhen Taylor Becken got the call from his mom telling him the front door was smashed at the bakery he started with fellow Clark High School graduate, Eric Lowe, his first reaction was to call the Castle Hills police.

Arriving at C’est La Vie Baking Company on West Avenue, he saw the police were already on the scene, clearing the building, then processing it as a crime scene. As the morning wore on and the initial shock wore off, Becken and Lowe talked about the incident, speculating that perhaps the person had no other choice. It could have been, as Becken put it, a “crime of desperation.”

Bakery owners Taylor Becken (left) and Eric Lowe address the crowd gathered at C’est La Vie Baking Company grand opening.

Bakery founders and UTSA students Taylor Becken (left) and Eric Lowe address the crowd gathered at C’est La Vie Baking Company grand opening.

A student in criminal justice at UTSA, Becken talked about how they had studied such incidents and what drove people to commit such property crimes. That’s when their view of the incident changed and they decided to move forward, posting a letter on their Facebook page.

“We cannot know the motivation behind this morning’s burglary, but we hope that those responsible use what they have taken to care for loved ones this Christmas season,” the two stated in the letter. This clearly was not the typical response of most crime victims.

Pastries await hungry customers at C’est La Vie Baking Company. Photo by Randy Bear.

Pastries await hungry customers at C’est La Vie Baking Company. Photo by Randy Bear.

Chatting with both owners earlier this week, it became evident that C'est La Vie Bakery isn’t your typical business.

Becken started the business, borrowing another kitchen’s ovens and baking after hours until the business arrangement ended. That’s when he teamed up with Lowe to explore opening their own bakery. While Becken is still completing his criminal justice major at UTSA, Lowe graduated from Wheaton College with degrees in political science and philosophy.

“Charity and business don’t have to be opposing forces, they can partner up,” Becken said.

While businesses will often use words to express an interest, it’s when those businesses put words into action that you see the true core values come through.

That’s what these two young entrepreneurs have done with C’est La Vie Baking Company. In some ways, the name seems to fit their approach to adversity. From the very start, they considered charity a value they would strive for in their business. Each day, when quantities merit, they take leftovers to the All Saints Anglican Church Food Pantry for distribution.

All Saints Anglican Church Food Pantry recognizes C’est La Vie Baking Company for their contributions during the bakery's grand opening on Friday, Dec. 5, 2013. Photo by Randy Bear.

All Saints Anglican Church Food Pantry recognizes C’est La Vie Baking Company for their contributions during the bakery's grand opening on Friday, Dec. 5, 2013. Photo by Randy Bear.

Driving around the community of Castle Hills, it would be hard to imagine needy families living within the city limits. Yet the bakery owners found remarkable diversity in the community. Becken cited the low-income  housing along West Avenue to Patricia Street.

When a few women from Women’s Global Connection prepared for a trip to Peru to help set up a bakery, they realized they had no skills in tackling such a project. That’s when Becken and Lowe invited them into their kitchen to work side by side and learn the craft firsthand. Since then, the two have stayed in touch with the women and the progress they have made, forging another partnership between charity and business.

But the expression of shared values doesn’t stop at charity. Freshness, using local ingredients when available, and a commitment to quality also are core values. They found a Fair Oaks pecan farmer at one of the farmers markets.

“You can be pointless and local, but we've gone local in a way that we've picked the most flavorful,” said Lowe, when reminded of an episode of Portlandia.

Taylor Becken and his mother, Sue Becken, hard at work in the bakery. Photo by Randy Bear.

Taylor Becken and his mother, Sue Becken, hard at work at the C’est La Vie Baking Company. Photo by Randy Bear.

Becken said  the pecans from the Fair Oaks orchard were the best he has tasted, and now are a staple ingredient. While not all things can be bought locally or within Texas, they are constantly looking for local vendors and adding to their inventory.

Purchasing items locally might be enough for some people, but the two are planning to embark in the spring on a project that will give them even fresher ingredients. Lowe said their landlord has agreed to let them convert one of the parking lot islands into a garden. The harvest will be used in the bakery. First on the list for Becken is fresh tomatoes, which he loves to add to recipes where he can.

Another value is transparency, practiced daily thanks to an open floor plan. Originally, the kitchen was closed off, but the partners decided to open up the area so customers could see the kitchen from anywhere in the shop.

Patrons enjoy the fruits of C’est La Vie Baking Company's labor during their grand opening. Photo by Randy Bear.

Patrons enjoy the fruits – er, pastries – of C’est La Vie Baking Company's labor during their grand opening. Photo by Randy Bear.

Since opening, the bakery has developed a sense of community. “We really hang out with customers a lot, it isn't uncommon that we sit down at the table with them and just chat,” Lowe said.

Customers have volunteered to work alongside the owners on some of their community ventures.

One patron dropped off some coffee mugs for the bakery with stipulations. “Part one I'm going to give you these mugs. Part two is if someone doesn't have the money to buy coffee, you give them a cup of coffee. Part three if you don't use these mugs, you give them to the Battered Women's Shelter,” said Becken, quoting the donor.

Friday morning, they held a Grand Opening and attracted a packed house. They had planned a food drive to coincide with the event and had asked the San Antonio Food Bank for a barrel to collect goods. After all the publicity from the incident on KSAT-TV News and Texas Public Radio, they called back, asking for more barrels. All three of those barrels were filled by the time the ceremonies started.

With everyone standing behind the pair and Castle Hills Mayor Bruce Smiley-Kaliff, the ribbon was cut and croissants served. It all seemed a fitting start to the dreams of two small business owners who have decided to bake pastries with a purpose.

Bakery founders Eric Lowe (second from left), Taylor Becken (center), Castle Hills Mayor Bruce Smiley-Kaliff (second from right) and friends cut the ceremonial ribbon at C’est La Vie Baking Company. Photo by Randy Bear.

Bakery founders Eric Lowe (second from left), Taylor Becken (center), Castle Hills Mayor Bruce Smiley-Kaliff (second from right) and friends cut the ceremonial ribbon at C’est La Vie Baking Company. Photo by Randy Bear.

 

Randy Bear is a 20-plus years  San Antonio resident, transplanted from Little Rock to join the ranks of USAA in Information Technology. Over the last two decades, he’s been involved in a variety of civic and political activities, including work with San Antonio Sports, KLRN, Keep San Antonio Beautiful, and Fiesta San Antonio. Randy’s political life took root when several friends from Arkansas pulled him into the first Clinton presidential campaign. Since then, he’s been active in politics and government, including a brief period serving on the staff of former City Councilman Reed Williams. 

 

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