Rachelle Bender loves to bake, and it’s a family tradition.

She learned how to make cookies and other treats from her grandmother, who she’d often visit after school while she was growing up in Portland. Apple pie became an early specialty.

“She’d have us cut up apples and do everything,” Bender recalled.

Bender has owned the Big Town Hero in Heritage Mall for 18 years, and her favorite part of the sandwich shop, naturally enough, is getting her hands in the dough and baking the bread.

“It’s relaxing. It’s therapeutic,” Bender explained. Plus, she’s a bit artistic, and there’s a creative side to making something from scratch.

Recently, she figured that she should start a bakery and focus on doing what she loves all day long.

Westside Bakery in downtown Albany opened up six weeks ago, and the storefront sells cakes, pies, cookies, cupcakes, donuts, dinner rolls, bread, scones and more and also does catering.

Cinnamon rolls have been the most popular item so far, but these aren’t regular cinnamon rolls, though the bakery sells those, too.

Bender has created fruit-infused cinnamon rolls such as her favorite, a raspberry variety with lemon-cream cheese frosting. “I wanted something a little different. … I love raspberry and lemon together, so I thought, let’s give it a try,” she said.

She also makes strawberry, hazelnut-chocolate and pumpkin cinnamon rolls.

Bender tries to have two or three vegan or gluten-free options every day. “I eat vegan, so I was in search of what’s good,” she said.

People will come from throughout the valley to buy them, including from Corvallis, and sometimes, vegans will buy everything she has on stock that doesn’t use animal products.

Another popular item on the menu is chocolate-peanut butter chip cookie sandwiches, with peanut butter mousse filling. It’s a sort of homage to her grandmother, who usually had chocolate-peanut butter chip cookies on hand.

Bender regularly uses one of her grandmother’s mixers when she’s baking.

She is passing down the family techniques to her daughter Grace Bender, a junior at West Albany High School, who also works at Westside Bakery.

“She’s always baking at home, all the time. She’s so good at it. I love doing it, as well, so I thought she could come in here and bake with me and maybe keep it in the family,” Bender added.

Grace has also taught her mom new baking tricks that she’s learned from online videos or new cookbooks. “She does really complicated things sometimes,” Bender said.

In the future, Bender would like Westside Bakery to offer lunch and more seating for customers, so they can come in and eat and enjoy the smell of fresh baked goods.

Westside Bakery, 329 Second Ave. SW, is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

For more information on Westside Bakery, go to the business’ Facebook page, or to put in a catering order, call 541-990-7189.

Kyle Odegard can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.

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