Today we’d like to introduce you to Katherine Slevin.
Katherine, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
From an early age, my parents instilled in us a sense of love and child-like faith that I have carried with me throughout the years. I grew up in a big family (7 siblings! and now lots of nieces and nephews, too), and my parents always encouraged us to follow whatever it was we were passionate about. Every Christmas, for instance, they would give us gifts to help us along in our path, which for me was evidently baking. I still remember getting my very first easy bake oven as a child. From there, my interest in baking took off and I never really looked back.
I remember being in the kitchen as a kid, creating and baking and just falling in love with desserts and pastry (and having plenty of people around to try and critique my creations). The Christmas gifts went from small cookie cutters to pastry books and chef knives and everything else in between. I was inspired by the entire field and the creativity behind it. I did end up going to high school and university, graduating with a BA in French and history but worked in pastry all along.
During the summers as a teenager and in my early twenties, I would crash on my sisters’ couch in Chicago and work in the industry, learning all I could from some of the city’s best chefs. I had the incredible opportunity to work in France on two different occasions, one at a family boulangerie in Nantes, getting hands-on training in French pastry techniques as well as at Pierre Herme in Paris, a dream come true. I can clearly trace C. Love to my love of pastry, people, and culture.
My mom is Lebanese-American, and growing up I was never afraid or ashamed of bringing kibbeh in my lunch (think “my big fat greek wedding”) or dancing the dabke at family weddings. Because of my Christian background, God has shown me over the years how to love people and see them as incredible, beautiful humans, regardless of race, culture, or background. I have kept a journal since the age of six, and have always been fascinated by the stories of others and the power of telling your story.
When I was young, my daddio nicknamed me “belle” because I always had a book in hand. I love working in pastry because it offers simple, everyday pleasures, but at a certain point in my career, I knew something was missing. I could no longer work for myself and live the Christian life I professed. My friend Emily had just recently returned from a trip in the middle east working with refugees and was ready to go back to help the crisis once again.
We became close friends over the course of the year, considering and praying what could possibly be done in the middle of the height of the Syrian refugee crisis. We eventually decided to just take the leap of faith and move to the island of Lesvos, Greece in 2016. It was there my eyes opened to an entire world of hurt and need and real-life issues that I had never before faced simply making pastries in a closed kitchen. Everything you see and read on the news was alive because I was in it.
I worked in moria refugee camp, and soon after I arrived became the director of clothing distribution for the entire camp. We worked for a small greek organization, but it what it lacked in numbers it made up for in love. Every person that was part of our organization had deep relationships not only with other larger organizations like Samaratin’s purse, unhcr, and save the children, but (most importantly) with the refugees. We knew them because we loved them and were there to serve.
My outlook on the entire crisis changed as refugees became friends and family. I would listen to a story and be blown-away by the strength, intelligence, in short, humanness, of every single person I met. All of that (and much more! Did you say brief?) has led me to establish the C. LOVE COOKIE PROJECT, L3C. I had lived and worked at a bakery (Standard Baking Co.) in Portland before moving to Greece, and when I returned, I knew there was valuable work to be done here, loving and serving the refugees in Portland.
Portland is the perfect place to begin this project because it is a resettlement city and a foodie place!
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
We are still pretty young as a company (less than a year old!) and getting started and establishing everything from a business standpoint has been very challenging for me.
I know how to bake and love well, but all the rules and regulations and paperwork and numbers for business have probably been the most challenging part of the entire thing for me personally. As a small business owner, you’re constantly watching over all aspects of the business.
Balancing it all has been tough, but I have had lots of great help so far. And when I think about the goal we are working towards, it helps me push forward.
C. Love Cookie Project – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Our specialty is obviously cookies, and I thoughtfully created the entire menu. Because of C. Love was built around the impact of one person’s story, each cookie on the menu has a background story as well. We currently wholesale to coffee shops and bakeries in Portland, and as of recently, you can order cookies online as well. Our cookies are all triangle-shaped, and I often get asked what’s the significance of that.
A lot of things came in 3’s as I was brainstorming ideas for c. love, so I just thought it was appropriate. For me, it also represents the Trinity, and lastly, I wanted an easy process to pass-on to the international women that would be joining us in the kitchen; knowing carpel tunnel is an issue for a lot of pastry chefs, I didn’t want any of us to have to experience that from constant scooping!
C. Love is an L3c, meaning it is a hybrid between a for-profit and non-profit. I will forever be proud of any progress we make in the area of loving humanity as best as we can over any progress we make from strictly a business standpoint. I was adamant that we gave 21% of our sales away in support of the immigrant community in Portland from the get-go.
Additionally, this fall (in partnership with Portland adult education), I will be teaching a baking class with women from all around the world. The idea is to use baking as a tool to learn about one another, and show none of us are that different from one another. I think food is such a powerful way to break down those barriers.
What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Seeing women come as volunteers (soon to be employees!) from all different countries, all different backgrounds, and being able to show them that there are people that care about them on a daily basis, beyond the walls of the kitchen. Every person that C. Love has helped us connect with makes me proud. I am amazed by what God has done so far.
- Website: www.clovecookieproject.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: c.love_cookie_project
Laura Bubar, Iman Enan