The best pieces of art come with a story, something that can be passed on through the generations. At Swarthmore, one of the most beautiful stories comes along with Toscah, the name of Therese Ton’s ̕ 19 emerging bakery. Ton’s story is a powerful one, rooted in her family and her own determination to find her purpose.
Ton’s first time cooking was her attempt to perfect French macarons to serve to her aunt, whose love for baking was sky-high. She started baking in middle school, inspired by her aunt Anh and uncle Rick’s specialty — soft bake biscotti. The recipe came from her aunt’s Italian husband, who brought his own family recipe to the mix. Their biscotti — which were usually sent out as Christmas gifts — inspired a lot of praise and encouragement to start a business. But as they had full-time careers, her aunt and uncle were never able to start their biscotti business, which they had wanted to name “Tarabella” after the older of their two German Shepherds: Tara and Toscah.
So when Ton came to Swarthmore, she made a promise to her aunt and uncle that she would start their biscotti business before she graduated. The decision wasn’t easy to make, but it came as a result of realizing exactly what she did not want.
“What really catalyzed me to actually start it this past summer was I was working in Philadelphia at a biomedical research job at Jefferson Med school. I hated it. I really, really despised it. I dreaded going to work every day. Throughout the first few weeks where I was really miserable I had a reoccurring conversation that was going in my head.” Ton said, “Hey that conversation that you had with your aunt and uncle. I kept on remembering that conversation, and I was like, I need an outlet to keep myself sane, I already hate my job, let’s pick up another one that I somewhat like to do. So I whipped up a couple batches of biscotti.”
For Ton, baking became something of a refuge for her. After leaving an abusive home environment, Ton moved in with her aunt and uncle, shedding light on just how important the family ties are to this business.
“This business is like a big thank-you present for taking me in and for being the family that I always wanted, that was supportive and healthy and inspiring rather than feeling like something I dreaded to come home to,” Ton said.
However, Ton decided to change one thing about her business: the name. Tara has a lot of attitude and acts like one of those mean girls who knows they’re pretty. So instead, she chose the younger of the two German Shepherds, Toscah. Ton describes Toscah as herself in dog form: kind and happy-go-lucky.
Soon after, she decided to pursue her business further. She started selling her biscotti and other baked goods to Hobbs. Alongside her weekly deliveries to Hobbs, she started doing orders through her website, www.toscah.com. It began to spread around campus, and more and more people began to order desserts. This enabled Ton to realize where her passion really was and gave her the self-confidence that sometimes she didn’t always have during her time in college.
Alongside her aunt and uncle, Ton’s closest mentor at Swarthmore, Professor Sara Hiebert Burch in the biology department, gave her the emotional support and guidance she needed to make the decision to do what was best for her. For Ton, the more “secure” choice was to go into medicine, something that did not give her the same amount of joy baking did. She realized that there were three things that she wanted to do for the rest of her life: baking, teaching, and biology.
Soon she began to daydream about opening Toscah’s storefront in Philadelphia and how she could teach the biochemistry of baking to her customers in her bakery, and especially to low-income folks who don’t traditionally have access to this information. Ton realized how biochemistry is very inaccessible to many people and saw value in using baking to teach these lessons.
Ton’s dreams are quickly becoming a reality. She is now working to develop a curriculum about the biology of baking to teach to high school students for S.T.E.M. mentoring. Ton is also testing some of her ideas at Strath Haven High School, where she gets to perform demonstrations and test recipes.
What is most amazing about Ton’s story is her determination to make her dreams come true. She came from a low-income, abusive family to create her own successful bakery, and is now getting to pass on her knowledge to others. Her story is one that can remind us that when we feel lost, we can always come back to the ones we love most and what they have taught us.