When you walk into the kitchen at The Root Cellar, Portland, when Katherine Slevin, founder and owner of C. Love Cookie Project, is baking, you’ll witness ordered chaos of women moving about with bowls of dough and trays of triangle-shaped cookies; you’ll hear English and French being spoken simultaneously; you’ll smell sweet aromas drifting beyond the kitchen walls; and you’ll sense the comradery of a team of women supporting one another.
C. Love Cookie Project was birthed out of Slevin’s love for pastry, culture, travel, and hearing peoples’ stories. The vision for the project was directly related to her experience working in a refugee camp in Greece two summers ago. “I would be working at the center and people wouldn’t be doing anything. The women are marginalized in Greece. I thought, I need to bring baking skills to these women,” said Slevin. “I spent so much time in Greece just sitting with people and hearing their stories. It changed me.”
Returning to Portland and doing regular baking felt empty to Slevin. Her love for the immigrant and refugee community became the driving force behind launching C. Love Cookie Project: a business that employs immigrants and where sales give back to immigrants. While she had a pastry background at bakeries in Chicago and Paris, she envisioned a baking operation that focused on cookies. “Baking cookies is easy. I want the work to be accessible to anyone,” she explained. “And culturally, cookies are the great equalizer. Everyone loves cookies.”
Slevin learned about the Women’s Business Center at CEI and began working with her business advisor, Sarah Guerette. “I know how to bake cookies and love people, but doing numbers and business etiquette I don’t know well. Sarah has been awesome and patient as I’ve grown the business.” With Sarah’s help, Slevin was able to build community connections and establish a payroll system.
“CEI is so well connected in the community and it is so appreciated. The fact that these services are free is just unbelievable.”
–Katherine Slevin, owner, C. Love Cookie Project
One year after launching the business, the C. Love team is comprised of five women (from Rwanda, Iraq, Canada, and the US), and has given back thousands of dollars to its partner organizations: Portland Adult Education, The Root Cellar Portland, and Way of Life Mission.
A Greater Vision
The dream of teaching immigrants, refugees, and New Americans the basics of baking is also coming to fruition with Slevin’s first Baking Exchange Program class offered through Portland Adult Education. While courses teach basic pastry skills, Slevin will also highlight recipes from other cultures. The C. Love team member from Iraq will teach a course on how to bake a traditional Iraqi cake. The course, beginning in October, is at full enrollment with immigrant and international women. “Giving these women a few extra skills may help them get a start here,” said Slevin.