While Jess da Silva was growing up, she adored sugar. She would watch her grandmothers bake throughout her childhood: Her German grandmother would knead, stir, and fold doughs and batters for European pastries, cakes, and tortes, while her Portuguese American grandmother focused on things like apple pie, sweet breads, and malasadas. When it was time to leave the kitchen and head to school, her family would give her 50 cents to spend on milk to go with her school lunch. Instead, she would take those quarters to buy Mexican candies.
So years later, when da Silva went on to open her own baking business, she wanted to pay homage to her first love.
“Some customers are like, ‘Milk Money? Like the money you would get for milk from school?’” she says. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah! I’d go waste it on treats.’”
Da Silva started Milk Money two decades ago and has sold her pastries in every state along the West Coast, from pre-ordered holiday pies to farmers market cookies. Now, Milk Money finally has a home base, selling scones, macarons, and croissants in the former Cafe Reina space — its first permanent location.
Pies and cookies have historically been Milk Money’s main focus, but da Silva has been adding new offerings at her farmers market stands every couple of months in preparation for the bakery opening. In the pastry case, baked goods like ham-and-Gruyere croissants, slices of walnut rum torte, and giant macarons sit ready to be enjoyed with coffee drinks made with Autumn Coffee Roasting beans. That being said, da Silva hasn’t forgotten her roots: Within days of opening her new bakery, da Silva churned out 800 pies for the Thanksgiving rush, in flavors like brown sugar pumpkin, bourbon pecan, and vegan apple.
Milk Money was born right around Y2K as a side project: Da Silva was cutting her teeth as an 18-year-old pastry chef at Bay Area restaurateur Bruce Hill’s diner, Fog City. Through working corporate gigs, serving as the food and beverage director for the San Jose Sharks hockey team, and baking bread at Marla, da Silva would take holiday pie orders, eventually selling baked goods at Bay Area farmers markets and opening a doughnut truck.
Da Silva moved to the Pacific Northwest to be closer to family in 2017, and a couple of years later, Milk Money was setting up at farmers markets once more. Da Silva has appeared at six markets in the Portland area, including Montavilla, Hollywood, Sauvie Island, Beaverton, and Vancouver. While some may guess da Silva’s dedication to Pacific Northwestern produce came from the markets, she says her time at Fog City really piqued her interest in local sourcing — the diner’s location, near the Ferry Building’s Saturday farmers market, meant walking over and grabbing produce for desserts and inventing specials based on what was available.
Even beyond sourcing from specific farms, some of the ingredients she uses she farms herself. Honey that da Silva collects goes into Milk Money’s wildflower honey and sea salt pie, which she describes as a “honey creme brulee in a pie shell.” She keeps thirteen beehives between Nuts About Berries farm in Newberg and her aunt and uncle’s property nearby.
And of course, visitors can order an apple pie from the bakery — just like her grandmother used to make.
Milk Money is located at 4943 NE MLK JR Blvd.