Brian and Pilar Vocker do more than make delicious sweets: they make memories. In fact, memories are their primary source of inspiration when creating candies for How Sweet It Is, a handcrafted, small-batch confectionery company owned and operated by this husband and wife.
Based out of the French Quarter in Multnomah Village, Brian and Pilar’s storefront is nothing short of charming. The front window is framed by white shutters. Through the glass, stacks of delicious sweets fill the shelves and tables, drawing the eyes of curious customers looking to satisfy a sweet craving. Perched above the door is a copper pot that Pilar’s grandmother passed down to Pilar’s mom, who then passed it on to her. After taking it all in, it’s easy to feel welcome when you’re met with Brian and Pilar’s warm smiles as they help you find the perfect treat.
Their journey as confectionery connoisseurs started in January of 2018. The couple wanted a career change that would offer them more flexibility and better accommodate their needs. Pilar, born with spina bifida myelomeningocele, had recently given birth to their fourth child, so they wanted to find a way to spend more time at home as a family. “It was about us giving ourselves the freedom to make our own hours,” Brian explained. “Exactly,” Pilar added. “And I also needed flexibility so that if I worked a little too hard and needed a rest day, I could do that without worrying about losing my job.”
Nevertheless, food has always been a passion for this husband and wife. Brian, who makes all of the candies at the commissary kitchen at the Portland Mercado, is a trained pastry chef and baker, and Pilar grew up making traditional Mexican recipes and sweets with her mother and grandmother. “We had talked in the past about opening a candy store eventually,” Pilar recalled. “But in our heads, eventually was retirement, not right after having your fourth child.” Nonetheless, Brian and Pilar have no regrets about endeavoring on this adventure earlier than expected.
Since starting How Sweet It Is, they have crafted recipes that celebrate and remember loved ones. Many of their signature recipes are inspired by some of their dearest family members. Tom’s Rocky Road is dedicated to Brian’s father, GeeGee’s Peanut Brittle in honor of his grandmother, and their cajeta recipe, a Mexican caramel, is a family recipe that Pilar’s mother passed down to them after they started the business. “We decided to take our love of relating food to family, friends, and experiences and turn it into a business,” Brian explained. “So all of our products became something much more than just a product: they are a memory.”
And it’s not just their own memories they reproduce with recipes. Recently, Brian and Pilar launched Custom Treats, a service that gives customers an opportunity to special-order candies that they can’t find easily. “We decided to focus on Custom Treats because at that time, Brian had just lost his dad,” Pilar said. “It just seemed right to keep the business memory-focused and help others.” Brian, who makes the Custom Treats, also loves how it enables him to build connections with people. “If someone has a memory of a candy from their childhood that they just can’t get out of their head, they can ask us if we know how to make it, and if I don’t, I’ll figure it out,” Brian explained. “I just love doing that for people.”
In addition to connecting with customers through their Custom Treats service, they also sell their products at Farmers Markets. “At farmers markets you really get the same customers who know what they want. They’ll come straight to you and you build relationships with them,” Brian explained. “That will never get old for me – just getting to know people and have them tell us a story about something they love.” Even with their storefront at the French Quarter, Brian and Pilar don’t have plans to stop selling at farmers markets anytime soon.
In fact, in the future, they hope to find new ways to bring treats to customers throughout Portland. “Eventually, we’d like to get a truck to take around and do classes at schools, businesses, things like that,” Brian said. “It’s one thing to sell at a farmers market, but to be able to make something in front of people and show them what I do is completely different.” When he makes the candy, everything is touched when it’s hot. The process is incredibly sensory and visual, something that would certainly excite customers and candy-lovers who aren’t used to seeing the behind-the-scenes production process.
While the duo are certainly excited about the possibilities awaiting them, they still take time to appreciate the present. “It’s the little touches that people forget sometimes,” Brian said. “That’s why it’s important to slow down and enjoy what’s right in front of you.”
You can find How Sweet It Is at the French Quarter in Multnomah Village. You can also visit their website, https://howsweetitispdx.com/. For farmers market lovers, catch this dynamic duo at Cedar Mills, South Waterfront, and Hillsdale.