If you stop into Ten Ten Pié and browse for just a few minutes, co-owner Markos Millar will be conversing with customers, many of whom he knows on a first-name basis, while arranging Finnish pies and blueberry buckles alongside pork kimchi steamed buns and huevos rancheros tarts. “Portland has a tremendously supportive food and small-business culture. Entrepreneurs are able to experiment,” said Markos.
The journey to opening Ten Ten Pié, a takeout bakery/ lunch/ market located on Cumberland Ave. in Portland, began to take shape in 2013 when longtime friends Markos Millar and Atsuko Fujimoto’s passions for food and culture collided. Atsuko, originally from Japan, had been working in the Portland food community for years, as an assistant pastry chef at Fore Street, in production at Standard Baking Co., and as the pastry chef at Miyake. Markos was a high school Spanish teacher and was ready for a change. Their interests and talents merged under the canopy of food enterprise and cultural education, and the idea for a multi-cultural restaurant café featuring crossroads of flavor inspired by French, Japanese, Mexican and Hungarian cuisine was born.
When Markos and Atsuko began dreaming of Ten Ten Pié, the vision was huge. “We wanted to offer a little of everything,” recalled Markos. They approached Tae Chong, Business Advisor in CEI’s StartSmart program, to help turn the vision into reality. “Tae helped us hone the vision and focus on our strengths. He helped us clarify what we wanted to be about by providing a roadmap for our business plan,” said Markos. “For the financial side, we were complete novices. At important decision points, he helped us determine the best approach. Ultimately, we made a business plan that was strong enough to be pitched to four banks, all of whom offered loans.”
The business opened in August 2014, at the crossroads of Portland’s most culturally diverse neighborhood: East Bayside, across the street from Portland Adult Education (PAE), Maine’s largest adult education center with nearly 2,000 New Mainers taking English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and just off Interstate-295.
“The first year felt like endless work,” said Markos. He and Atsuko ran the business as the only employees for that first year. As Ten Ten Pié has become more established, Markos and Atsuko have moved from the model of adding employees who simply assist their work, to creating specific roles and responsibilities for each team member. “We try to create systems where our employees are trained and empowered to do their jobs successfully, while being supported and having a sense of autonomy. To reach the business’ full potential, we have to tap into the talent and vision of our employees and our community.” Currently, three years after opening, Markos and Atsuko employ three part-time staff in addition to their full-time roles in the business.
Tae Chong has continued to provide support and connections to the co-owners as the business grows. Tae explained, “When I met Yolanda, a Congolese baker trained in French pastry, and a student at PAE who was interning for another well-known baker in Portland, she was looking for a job. She is a highly skilled professional, and I immediately thought she would fit in at Ten Ten Pié, who was looking to hire another baker.” Now, Yolanda bakes part-time at Ten Ten Pié and continues to take ESL classes across the street.
Ten Ten Pié is a Spanish phrase that means snack and translates literally to keep you on your feet. What the bakery market offers on the shelves is emblematic of its role in the community: it is foreign and exotic enough to be exciting, but comfortable and familiar enough that customers feel they have a place and can connect with the food. Markos remarked, “We offer a little bit of something for a lot of different people.”