If you are old enough to remember the Nestle jingle that went “N-E-S-T-L-E-S, Nestle makes the very best….chocolate,” you are probably familiar with the unmistakably marvelous aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies filling the house, the pleasure of eating them while they are still warm and gooey, and then draining a glass of cold, fresh milk to finish them off. The cookies of our memories were no doubt created with love, eggs, sugar, butter, flour, and the contents of that iconic yellow bag that since 1939 has held what is more technically known as “toll house morsels.” If you are too busy to bake, you can still get that loving taste and more at the Nestle Toll House Café, located at 1260 US Hwy 72 E in Athens, next to Starbuck’s and across from Chick-fil-A.
Last year Sascha Easterling and her husband Chad purchased the franchise outlet from Pat Madsen, and, as Sascha says, “took it on as a family thing.” Sascha had worked at the shop for around a year, learned the business, and found a venue where her creativity could be nearly boundless. The Easterlings are fascinating folks—Chad is a Software Engineer at Dynetics and an adjunct professor of computer science at Athens State. Sascha is an Athens State grad, having majored in Graphics Art and minoring in Art History. She has also taught classes at ASU’s Center for Lifelong Learning. In addition, they have a ten year old adopted son from Albania who has been a part of their family since he was 2 ½, and they are all involved in making the shop hum. Most of the staff was able to join them when they took over in August of 2013, and every time I deliver papers there, I am warmly greeted.
Though Sascha is not formally trained in Art Therapy, she has done it for years, having volunteered at places such as Huntsville Hospital on the Pediatric Oncology unit. Her favorite students were kids battling cancer, and she was often told that they could not wait until she came back. She knows and demonstrates the power of art in the “healing arts.”
She is also a talented musician, and I had the great pleasure of singing with her and Barry Kay at the Center for Lifelong Learning at one of their soirées. She designed the cover art for Barry’s CD entitled, Jude, and let’s just say the girl has mad skills.
Her cookie cakes are works of art, and currently the most favorite is the charming snowman named Olaf from the Academy Award winning animated feature, Frozen. “I put a lot of passion into my work,” says Sascha, and the display cases in the shop are filled with the proof. While I was conducting the interview, one of her friendly staffers took out a fresh batch of cookies from the oven, and given the chance I would have been tempted to eat the whole pan. “I get a lot of return customers,” she said, and I can see why. One thing I like about Sascha is that even though she is the owner, she buys and pays for her own cookies and cookie cakes.
Other proofs of her creativity are on the walls, and that is where the work of her students is displayed as well. What sets this Nestle Toll House Café apart from the rest is that the other “hat” Sascha wears (besides that of wife, mother, musician, artist, and woman of faith,) is that of art teacher. She teaches art classes to kids and adults right there at the shop. Some of it is cookie art, as well as cookie cake decorating, but she teaches classic drawing and painting using a number of modalities.
“Right now we are having summer camps,” she said, referring to the classes, “and during the year we have classes every third Friday of each month. They are held at 6pm, so adults can come, too.” I then asked, “So, why, when there are art teachers all over Athens, should I come to you?” She smiled and said, “You get a fresh baked cookie and a drink, in addition to your class. For the pre-school Thursdays, (which are held 10-noon,) you get to decorate your own cookie and then eat it!” Sascha also wants people to know that Nestle Toll House Café hosts birthday parties, for $15 a guest.
Nestle Toll House Café in Athens recently received the Best Bakery in Athens Award by the Athens News Courier. Also, Groupon, (the online coupon service) noted that they were “impressed by the level of customer service.” So, if you want to experience creativity in the form of cookies or classes, come to Nestle Toll House Café, where Sascha and her crew “bake the very best.”
Nestle Toll House Café
1260 US Hwy 72 E, Suite I Athens AL, 35611
Hours: M-F 10-8, Sat 10-9, Sun noon-7
Facebook: Nestle Toll House Café-Athens
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner