It could almost be described as a couple's epiphany; a bit over 10 years ago Oscar and Emily Arreola noticed that Aurora needed something, and they could be the right people to provide it.
The 25-year-old high school sweethearts were in town visiting Emily's parents, Todd and Laura Engle, and they both looked around town and both asked the same question: "You know what this town needs?"
The answer ultimately spawned White Rabbit Bakery, which celebrated its 10th Anniversary on Nov. 3.
Emily had been working at Eugene's popular Sweet Life Patisserie. She had also worked at Great Harvest Bakery in Salem, and various restaurants growing up in Corvallis. She and Oscar are both Class of 2003 Corvallis High School alums.
The restaurant track stayed with Emily as her post high-school studies guided her to Le Cordon Bleu, one of the largest networks of cooking and hospitality schools in the world.
That background provided a perfect backdrop to opening a restaurant, with one additional ingredient – a jack-of-all-trades. That describes Oscar.
"I wouldn't be able to do it if he didn't have that (knack)," Emily said. "He just fixes so many things."
It took a little nudging, a little faith and a little bit of blind risk. Emily had landed a baking job in Portland. But something was missing.
"We both just kept saying 'we can do this ourselves,'" she recalled.
They took the leap -- but it wasn't an all-out lunge.
"We started out with coffee and pastries," Emily said. "People would come in and let us know what they wanted, and we grew from there."
They added sandwiches to the menu, and their baked goods grew tremendously. They were soon filling a gap in the area for anyone looking for a healthy, hearty sandwich made with bread baked fresh daily. They also grew to like their environs; they became part of the community.
"At first, all I wanted to do was make cupcakes for people," Emily said. "Now, more than anything, I like being part of the community."
That means being the host for a number of different scenarios, like when one area private school teacher wants to treat her students for good work, White Rabbit is the destination. The local police and civic groups value White Rabbit as a meeting spot, as do local art groups.
That suits the Arreolas just fine.
Over time things have changed a bit as they've catered to community necessities. Ten years ago it was just Oscar and Emily running the joint. Tauni Szabados hired on a year later to help out. She is still there; part of a staff of 4 full-time and 5 part-time employees.
The Arreolas also redesigned the kitchen to accommodate sandwich making. The meeting area includes a corner with a bookcase, and the counter area includes shelves with some locally iconic product, like hazelnuts.
For a place they were just visiting 10 years ago, Aurora became quite the fixture in the Arreolas' lives. In turn, they've become an Aurora fixture – some customers have even been calling them a local institution.
It's like it was meant to be.
"That's how we feel," Emily affirmed. "I don't think we would have been successful anywhere else."
If you go
What: White Rabbit Bakery
Where: 21368 Pacific Highway, Aurora
Hours: 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday-Monday
Notable: Established in 2009, White Rabbit celebrated its 10th anniversary in Aurora on Nov. 3. The restaurant offers a variety of gluten-free and dairy-free options and bakes everything fresh daily.
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