Mitchell’s Painted Hills Pastry off to a sweet start
By Patrick Farrell
It was horses that inspired Ashley Tolton to open Painted Hills Pastry, a French pastry shop on Main Street in the tiny Eastern Oregon town of Mitchell.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor of her art studio, paint brush in hand, Ashley admits that French pastry isn’t her first love, but it comes close.
“Horses are everything to me. If I could be training horses the rest of my life, I’d be the happiest person on the planet.” she admits.
Raised in the San Francisco bay area, Ashley’s life-long love for horses, and the deeply disciplined English riding style, are at the center of her life. And horses are what guided her towards opening her own pastry shop.
The Unlikely Path to Pastry
With a head for science, Ashley made her way to the pre-veterinary program at Oregon State University. “It was a way to be around horses more, and veterinarians make decent money, which made my parents pretty happy”, she says of her choice to pursue vet school. There, she met Jake Tolton from Mitchell. The two shared a love for horses and ranching and eventually married.
Training horses took center stage near the end of Ashley’s time at OSU, leading her to full-time professional horse training. “Being a horse trainer is consuming. There’s nothing else in your life but training”, she says of the military-level discipline of English riding.
Ashley and Jake moved around the western United States working on ranches as ranch hands and trainers. Shortly after the two began their own business as professional trainers, Ashley had a fall that fractured her spine. With the extreme pressure of training and risk of further serious injury, Ashley and Jake took a closer look at what they wanted out of life.
“Jake and I moved around a lot, trying to fit the pieces together. Everywhere we went we compared our surroundings to Central and Eastern Oregon”, Ashley says. With Jake’s family ties to Eastern Oregon, Mitchell stood out a potentially good option for the two.
Business sense runs strong in Ashley’s family. Her late father, a successful businessman, ingrained in Ashley the importance if understanding smart business decisions. “From the time I was eleven I worked as an assistant trainer to pay board for my horse. My dad always made it clear how much things cost and that owning a horse was my own responsibility”, she says of her father’s training. “My dad was good at a lot of things, almost annoyingly so. He taught me how business works”.
After choosing Mitchell as their new home, Ashley began to imagine her new future in remote Eastern Oregon with Jake. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do exactly, but I knew I wanted my own business. I wanted something of my own”, Ashley says.
Since early childhood, Ashley spent hours “doodling” and painting. Her parents encouraged her creative endeavors, which turned into a love for creative expression parallel to her love for horses. “I’ve always painted or drawn”, Ashley says of her creative roots.
Combining her artistic talents with the science of baking and the discipline of horse training put the wheels in motion for potentially opening a pastry shop of her own. Ashley says, “I’ve always painted. Pastry is very artistic. Now it’s just edible art, and I thought ‘I can do that'”!
Shortly after deciding to open Painted Hills Pastry, an opportunity to purchase a restaurant in downtown Mitchell opened up. “Things began happening so fast, we just went for it”, Ashley says.
The couple renovated the former Sidewalk Cafe into the storefront for the bakery with space to display Ashley’s art. When COVID19 hit the couple took the opportunity to fully remodel the kitchen and space to allow for increased production.
With the business growing and the potential of wholesale to regional coffee shops and restaurants being discussed, Ashley admits production isn’t her only criteria for success. Ashley’s greatest desire for the shop is to see it provide a lift to the community.
“I know people want to hear that I’ve always dreamed of opening a bakery, that it was a childhood dream, but it wasn’t. Opening a bakery isn’t the success I’m hoping for”, Ashley states.
Instead, economic growth and prosperity on a broader spectrum in Mitchell is her hope. “I want to provide local jobs, with health insurance. If I can get to that point, then that’s success to me. We are here to help the community of Mitchell, that’s the biggest driving factor”, she says.
In addition to one day providing local jobs, Ashley is dedicated to creating the highest quality pastry, made with locally sourced organic ingredients wherever possible. When purchasing ingredients Ashley looks for three important factors. “Organic is most important, local is next, and preservative free makes up our top three tiers”. Though there are local organic options, like the Painted Hills Beef used in her croissant sandwiches, Ashley understands that not everything can be found close by. Still, ingredients need to be high quality. “For example, we get our chocolate from the Netherlands because it’s the cleanest process with the best ingredients. There’s no preservatives like soy fillers like most American products have”, she says.
Though new to owning a pastry business, the quality of pastry Ashley produces isn’t unfamiliar territory. “I worked at Sparrow bakery in Bend. They were amazing. They’re probably one of the highest quality bakeries and they taught me about dough and about quality.”, she says, adding that pastry takes an incredible attention to detail, which is something she enjoys.
After working at Sparrow, Ashley worked for a time at Too Sweet Cakes, another bakery in Bend, where she learned about producing quality gluten free pastries.
Spending time behind the scenes in Bend gave Ashley a unique understanding of her clientele.
Situated near the Painted Hills, Mitchell attracts travelers from all over the west. Clients from Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, and Bend often have already been exposed to the rich flavor profile of French pastry.
“I like French pastry because they focus a lot more on butter, and less about sugar and sweet. Everything we’re learning about nutrition and the need for less sugar, this seems to fall in line with that. You should be able to taste your flavors, not just have a wall of sugar smack you.”, she says of the unique makeup of her pastries.
Racks of rich croissants, delectable treats, and croissant sandwiches fill the small shop with an aroma that pulls passers-by in from the street. Ashley takes time out from rolling dough to help a couple from Portland visiting the area. After a few minutes of discussion, the couple decides to take several items for their long journey back to the valley.
The shop, open Thursday through Sunday, serves many travelers staying in the area and provides a delightful way to start a traveler’s day of exploring the rich variety that Eastern Oregon has to offer.
With eye on economic development, a deep commitment to quality, and a love for Eastern Oregon, Painted Hills Pastry is lining up for sweet success in Mitchell.
To learn more about the shop and their offerings, check them out on social media, or place an order through their website at www.paintedhillspastry.com.