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Sweet Science

​From a communal kitchen in Palmer Hall, Therese Ton ’19 bakes up tasty treats, available in the Ville at Hobbs and the Co-op or at The bio major’s eventual goal? A brick-and-mortar business offering STEM workshops for students on the biochemistry of baking. Here, she discusses her bakery biz, Toscah, and her post-graduation pastry plans.

What do you enjoy most about baking?

Making a beautiful product and knowing that it’s going to make other people happy. Baking is an art as much as it is a science, so creating all these desserts has simultaneously satisfied the creative soul and scientist in me.

How many orders do you fill each week?

I average around three. It can range from making two birthday cakes a week to making more than 200 cupcakes for three different campus-wide events, depending on the time of the year. The end of the semesters are always super busy since a lot of student groups are holding events or meetings.

Is this something you hope to continue post-graduation?

Absolutely! To be able to fully understand what I envision Toscah to be, I should give you the back story to how it began and grew into what it is today.

I started Toscah last summer while I was working as a research assistant at a biomedical lab in Philly. It was a job I dreaded going to because I realized I wasn’t interested in the research, so I starting baking my family’s recipe of biscotti to sell to Hobbs coffee shop just as an outlet. One thing led to another, and I started experimenting and making a lot of different baked desserts, like sea-salt dark chocolate cake, New York cheesecake, strawberry shortcake, carrot cake, London fog cake, etc.

Once school started again in the fall, my professors and friends got wind of what I was doing, and I started getting flooded with individual orders and catering gigs for events. I was a biology major on the premedical track at that point and started to see myself enjoying being in the kitchen baking and developing my business a lot more than being in the hospital and shadowing doctors. This was a really crucial realization for me. I asked myself a really pointed question: “Therese, what are some things in your life that you love to do and would continue doing in your life without pay?” I came up with three things: baking, biology, and teaching—three very different career paths. I spent many weeks trying to weigh out the pros and cons of each and felt pretty distraught because I didn’t have any specific direction in my life.

Finally, one night I had a lightbulb moment, with an idea of opening Toscah Bakery as a brick-and-mortar location in Philadelphia and offering workshops to my customers teaching the biochemistry of baking. Also, reflecting on my experience growing up low-income with very few STEM opportunities around me, I want to create a fully funded after-school or summer program for high schoolers with similar backgrounds. STEM topics like biology, chemistry, and biochemistry can be very intimidating, and I want to make science more engaging, accessible, and fun.

I envision Toscah Bakery to be a signature bakery in Philadelphia and a platform where I can help redefine science education through the art of baking. I intend to collaborate with colleges like Swarthmore and high schools in the Philadelphia area to develop my workshops and hopefully make this vision a reality. It’s been such an exciting year seeing Toscah grow and developing my plans for the business and even more excited about what’s to come!

Anything else we should know about Toscah?

Yes! I was able to teach my first workshops at Strath Haven High School this past semester, which were really fun! I didn’t get to teach the science behind the recipes, but it was a first step.

In addition, Toscah has teamed up with an organization called the Uncommon Individual Foundation (UIF). UIF is a unique startup incubator based in Philadelphia. Instead of asking for financial stake in the entrepreneurs that they support, UIF asks for mentorship time to high school and college students in the community. UIF runs a STEM mentoring program for high school students in the area and needed someone to help pilot the science program. Starting in August 2018, I’m working with UIF to develop a curriculum for the high schoolers and test out my idea the following school year.