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Take the cake

Bubbly Beaverton Farmers Market favorite is pleased to promote public transit
by: Jaime Valdez Zoe Buckley, who finished up the market season during Beaverton’s Harvest Market on Saturday, serves as a TriMet transit ambassador.

Those who experience Zoe Buckley at the Beaverton Farmers Market are likely to pick up a couple core truths: No. 1, Zoe's laugh is a joyous, earth-shaking force of nature; and No. 2, Her multi-flavored cheesecakes are to die for.

With that information, it's not unreasonable to assume Buckley, of 'Zoe Ann's Cheescakes' fame, is a natural social butterfly; and has been crazy about baking since she was knee high to a grasshopper.

Um, wrong and wrong.

Buckley, the Beaverton resident chosen for TriMet's 'What Makes This Place Great' campaign, is not as easily pinned down as her gregarious demeanor and bodacious baking ability might suggest.

'On my own time, I'm actually pretty quiet,' Buckley confessed. 'People hear my loud laugh and think I'm totally different than what I am, that I'm a party girl. I'm really a nerd. That's where baking suits me. It's very exact and takes a lot of concentration to do well. Those things actually appeal to me.'

Baking in the making

It wasn't always that way. The 25 or so flavor combinations the '40-something' Buckley uses to create cheesecake magic didn't come naturally in her formative years.

'I didn't know I could bake,' she said of her childhood in Philadelphia and Chicago. 'No, I hated baking. I didn't want to be in the kitchen or anything.'

That changed with the encouragement of a roommate when Buckley was in her 20s.

'She said 'You're really good at thinking of things off the top of your head. Make something sweet. Just think of something!'' Buckley recalled. 'It always came out really nice. It was just something I liked. I decided I was going to have a food business one day.'

That dream came to fruition, and Zoe Ann's Cheesecakes has been a mainstay of the Beaverton Farmers Market since 2006.

When TriMet officials were searching faces and personalities for a marketing campaign that spotlights area residents, Beaverton Farmers Market Manager Ginger Rapport had a feeling Buckley - a former opera singer - would fit the role to a T.

'She's just one of those people who leaves such a good impression,' Rapport said. 'She has the kind of voice you never forget. You can hear her laugh all over the market. It always makes you giggle a little bit to hear her cracking up.

'I've never seen her down. She never complains.'

In motion

The 'What Makes This Place Great' campaign placed Buckley's beaming smile on the side of TriMet bus lines through Beaverton. Her audio-visual profile can be found among those from other Portland-area residents at www.whatmakesthisplacegreat.com .

Pam Wilson, TriMet's marketing manager, said Buckley's unforgettable charisma makes her an ideal spokeswoman to shed light on vibrant, well-connected communities such as Beaverton.

'We thought Zoe would be great,' Wilson said. 'When you talk to her, you can see that enthusiasm.'

Beaverton Mayor Dennis Doyle, who before the campaign knew Buckley more through her cheesecake, said Buckley makes a great ambassador for the city.

'It's really a kick to see Zoe on the side of the bus,' he said. 'She's very friendly and finds living in Beaverton very friendly. That's the best testimony a city can ever have.'

TriMet kicked off 'What Makes This Place Great' in October. The agency wasn't looking so much for avid public transportation users, Wilson explained, as those who could effectively express their connection to the place they call home.

'People can go to the website and submit their own stories about their favorite places to go and what you think makes this region a great place to live,' Wilson said. 'If it happens there's a connection to public transit, that's great. It happens that Zoe doesn't drive much.'

Buckley, who was 31 before she got her driver's license, said promoting TriMet buses and the MAX train comes naturally.

'I thought it was super cool. I am the self-proclaimed queen of public transportation,' she said. 'When I go to downtown Portland, I drive to the MAX station and take the train in.'

She attributed her public-transit affinity to living in large metropolitan areas such as Chicago, New York City and Seattle.

'I've always lived in big cities, so there was never a need to drive,' she said. 'I kind of developed a phobia against driving. It's something I never, ever wanted to do. It's OK here, though. It's not as crowded, and there's some elbow room.'

Home at last

Not that Buckley, particularly during market season, has much time for flitting about. She is often at home creating and baking.

Her husband, Maurice, when not working as a distribution manager at Fred Meyer, actually hand cracks the coconuts Zoe uses for her infamously delectable coconut crème cheesecakes. 'He's my official sous chef,' Zoe said of Maurice. 'He helps a lot.'

After living in numerous locales, including Jamaica, where they met, the Buckleys felt a true sense of arrival on a visit to Portland from Seattle six years ago.

As they emerged from the Vista Ridge Tunnels on Highway 26 and descended the slope from Sylvan toward Beaverton, Zoe and Maurice had an epiphany.

'Seeing all the trees and mountains, both of us kind of exhaled,' she recalled. 'And that's how we came to live in Beaverton.'

Now relaxing just a bit after a hectic market season, Buckley said her comfort in Beaverton has eased her once-intense wanderlust.

'For the first time, I can say my spirit is rested,' she said. 'People here say, 'Hi' back to you, and I love that.'