Tacoma gets a new biscotti bakery shop. Also find dessert bars, crackers
For a decade, dessert lovers could find biscotti from Tacoma-based The Art of Crunch at farmers markets, coffee shops, pop-up events, wine bars and holiday markets.
Today, you can pop into Tacoma’s new The Art of Crunch biscotti storefront and buy Rhonda Hamlin’s famous biscotti, dessert bars, vegan desserts and hand-made crackers at her very first retail space at 608-B Oxford St., Tacoma.
For now, Hamlin will keep hours from around 3-7 p.m. on Fridays and 12-5 p.m. Saturday at The Art of Crunch’s new storefront.
THE ART OF CRUNCH BACKGROUND
She started her company officially about a decade ago, but the idea for her biscotti business percolated a decade before that. It was born over the cosmetics counter at Nordstrom where Hamlin worked before launching her dessert company. Many of her winning biscotti flavors came from chatting up co-workers about what flavors would pair well.
She started experimenting. On a whim, she entered a baking competition. She won the blue ribbon for her white chocolate dipped cranberry biscotti at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup in 2002.
Hamlin has always been the champion of collaborations with other local food businesses. Find her biscotti in ice cream from Bliss Small Batch Creamery, and available for purchase at places such as Parkland Place Bistro, at drive-up coffee stands and more.
One of her most popular dessert biscotti was born out of collaboration with a friend from Nordstrom. “I had a friend in the cosmetics area that had a caramel company. We were at coffee one day and we talked about, ‘How can we put my biscotti and your caramel together?’ She gave me some of her caramels, they were individually wrapped, and I ended up incorporating it into my biscotti.”
Those salted caramel biscotti dipped in dark chocolate have become one of her best sellers. Bryan Reynolds from the local chain of Anthem coffee houses gave them the nickname of adult Snickers bars. It’s the first biscotti a newcomer to The Art of Crunch should try, along with the seasonal offerings.
OPENING UP A FEW DOORS DOWN
For years, Hamlin has baked her biscotti, dessert bars and crackers in the Narrows neighborhood at The Gourmet Niche, a commissary kitchen that is home to several small food business owners and food trucks, such as Upper Crust Bistro, Boss Mama’s Kitchen, Woodland Sunrise and many more.
A few doors down and sandwiched between The Gourmet Niche and Wildside Wine was a tiny space in suite 608-B.
“It had rows and rows of costumes. It was for costume storage,” said Hamlin. The space was used by neighboring Tacoma Musical Playhouse. The Gourmet Niche owner Bette Anne Curry prodded Hamlin to go look at the space and Hamlin loved what she found.
The storefront is closet sized, which is exactly what Hamlin needed for getting started in retail. At the front is a table and rack holding her biscotti, dessert bars and crackers. All are packaged and ready for gifting or immediate eating. In the back, there’s refrigerated storage.
Owning a storefront was an idea she had before the pandemic. That timeline escalated when she changed her business model while reacting to the pandemic.
“With Covid, I lost 95 percent of my business in one day. All of my accounts, literally, it was that Monday when everything shut down. I reached out to all my clients on Mondays to get their orders and I was calling them and they were saying, ‘No, no, no. We can’t order anything.’ I was a ball on the floor hysterically crying. I did not know what to do. It was scary,” said Hamlin.
And then she found success in drive-thru coffee stands and picked up bigger clients, such as MultiCare and Catholic Community Services.
“People kept asking, do you have retail? There were so many direct-to-customer sales I could have been doing. That’s what made me think, ‘What about retail?’”
She added, “I had one guy who called me today and asked for biscotti. He wanted them right then. Having a store will be helpful with people able to come right away and buy something. In Gourmet Niche, I can’t set anything up. I also don’t have storage space.”
While she’ll continue doing all her baking at The Gourmet Niche, she intends to use her neighboring new space as a retail extension. That’s out of necessity.
In The Gourmet Niche, she has one baker’s rack, which is mostly full of cooking ingredients. Having the neighboring storefront will allow her to keep stock on hand with refrigerator cases in the back and plenty of rack storage to supply her customers.
As she ramps up her new storefront, Hamlin is launching a new product line of vegan baked goods. With vegan family members, she’s got plenty of taste testers to sample her vegan desserts and help with recipe development. This month, she’s been working on a vegan orange and dark chocolate biscotti. All of her crackers, except the ones with parmesan cheese, are vegan. And her best selling dessert bar is the vegan dark chocolate raspberry.
During the holiday season, shoppers will find dessert boxes in all kinds of themes, including a vegan-themed box and other holiday packages.
Also, keep an eye out for a grand opening celebration closer to Valentine’s Day. That’s when she’ll introduce even more product lines, including more vegan items.
THE ART OF CRUNCH
New storefront: 608-B Oxford St., Tacoma
Hours: 3-7 p.m. Fridays, 12-5 p.m. Saturdays (for now)