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Twisted Carrot offers treats with personality

Downtown Gresham cafe changes name, but not good food
by: Jim Clark Susan Whitfield is the owner of The Twisted Carrot, a coffee, bakery and sandwich shop in Gresham.

Take a bite into a 'double ohh' and you'll know why customers keep coming back the Twisted Carrot Cafe, 523 N.E. Eighth St., Gresham. The peanut butter cookie wrapped around a full Reese's peanut butter cup is only one of the many delicious treats and drinks the restaurant offers.

Cafe-goers can find coffee and espresso drinks, baked goods, salads, soups, sandwiches and paninis. All food is made to order, using fresh ingredients, and the soups, bread and salads are made at the cafe each day.

Owner Susan Whitfield's business philosophy, she said, is 'custom food, fresh.'

'A lot of restaurants just open up something and nuke it for you,' Whitfield said. 'I only use food that I would eat.'

Whitfield's personal favorite is the Twisted Chicken Sandwich, made with chicken, bacon, cheddar, lettuce, tomato and Caesar dressing.

The restaurant, formerly Cafe Paninis, opened five years ago, but changed its name to the Twisted Carrot Cafe last year.

She said she decided to change the cafe's name because it wasn't memorable, unlike The Twisted Carrot.

'I though it was funny,' Whitfield said. 'Carrots naturally twist together in compact soil.'

Whitfield started her business from the ground up, designing the cafe's logo and sign, choosing the furniture and even tiling the floor herself.

'I watched videos on YouTube,' she said. 'I'm all about video tutorials.'

But Whitfield didn't have to watch a video to learn how to run the cafe, as she is no stranger to the industry. Before opening the Gresham location, Whitfield owned a Cafe Paninis in her hometown of Monroe, Wash., and before that owned a string of espresso stands in both Washington and Oregon.

'My family, we're like entrepreneurs,' Whitfield said, adding that her other family members are involved in the insurance business. 'I decided to escape the boredom of insurance and enter the wacky world of food service.'

Many of the cafe's customers are commuters or workers from the TriMet transit center across the street. Whitfield said the partnership with TriMet, which owns the building in which the cafe is located, has been profitable.

'They're great to us,' she said, 'because we take care of their drivers … (who) don't have access to good food.'

For morning commuters and TriMet drivers alike, Whitfield and the Carrot offer more than just a cup o' Joe.

'With espresso and coffee, it's about the relationship you have with the customers,' Whitfield said. 'We're like your morning bartender but nobody's drunk.'

Furthering her offerings for TriMet commuters, Whitfield recently opened a food stand at the TriMet transit center. The cart, which opened on Memorial Day weekend this year, sells 'grab and go' food like hot dogs, nachos and other '7-Eleven' type food, Whitfield said, for those in a hurry.

Cafe customers can also enjoy a trip back to childhood, with one of the Carrot's most popular dishes: tater tots, a delicacy Whitfield said many restaurants no longer serve.

'It's almost like nostalgic, you can see it in (the customer's) face, remembering.'

So whether you're looking for a tasty treat or a hot panini, 'get your twist on at the Carrot.'

Downtown cafe

What: The Twisted Carrot Café

Where: 523 N.E. Eighth St.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday

FEATURES: Free Wi-Fi