CPTC Culinary Arts alum cooks up success in Puyallup

By Jean Borst

Growing up, Hollie Carty spent a lot of time in the kitchen. But her culinary interests always leaned more toward science than art.

She originally planned to go into forensics until a high school job shadow experience with Clover Park Technical College Culinary Arts instructor Dean Massey set Hollie on a different course. She enrolled at CPTC as a full-time Running Start student her senior year, and in 2012 received her Culinary Arts Associate Degree of Applied Technology.

Across the globe and back

After graduation, Hollie spent time living and honing her culinary craft in a small village in France. When she returned to the states, she launched her career at Casa Mia, a beloved Italian restaurant and pizzeria in Puyallup. She later became the pastry chef at her grandmother’s bakery in Orting where she met her future husband, Zachary, who was also a baker there. Hollie returned to Casa Mia after the owner made her an offer she couldn’t refuse, and Zachary joined her in the kitchen there a few months later. The stage was set for bigger things to come for the couple.

“One day, the owner approached us about buying one of his other restaurants,” Hollie said. “We asked ourselves, ‘Do we keep working for other people or do we accept the challenge and make something out of this?’”

Turning up the heat

The couple took the leap and became the owners of West Pioneer Grill in downtown Puyallup. It was November 2019, and the leap quickly became a plummet.

“We were still new to business ownership and still trying to figure things out when the COVID shutdown happened,” Hollie said. “I cried. I was so scared.”

They put their employees on standby, changed the menu and shifted to takeout orders. “We worked open to close every day for seven months,” she said. “All the money we made went back into the restaurant.” When restrictions were lifted and they reopened the doors, they brought back their employees, expanded the menu and watched business grow. They also took a break long enough last summer to get married.

One part challenge, two parts reward

Global pandemics aside, there are loads of trials that come with owning and running a restaurant. For one thing, you’re always on the job – no matter the time of day or where you are.

“The restaurant is always on my mind, even when I go home at night,” Hollie said. “Is there something I can do better? How can I bring in more people? Where can things be more efficient? Obviously, I need to do a better job of making time for myself.”

Along with those challenges also come some big paybacks.

“I love to see customers I’ve connected with come back again and again,” Hollie said. “And there’s nothing better than having a table tell me they loved everything I created. Those are Ratatouille moments that take me right back to my childhood.”

The full-meal deal

CPTC’s Culinary Arts program offers students all the ingredients they need to be successful in the fast-paced food world, from cooking basics to restaurant management. It also provides real-world experience through the student-run Rainier Room, a full-service, up-scale dining facility on the CPTC campus.

“The program showed me firsthand how to work in a kitchen,” Hollie said. “It also taught me the value of teamwork and that no one person can run the show. The good, hard-working people you employ have a lot of great knowledge, opinions and ideas.”

One of her kitchen crew’s great ideas turned out to be achiote BBQ sauce, which was such a big hit that it’s now the restaurant’s signature burger condiment.

“I can’t think of a better example of how a program affected a person’s life,” CPTC Culinary Arts instructor Dean Massey said. “It’s great to see Hollie’s success.”

What’s on the menu?

Hollie is always adding new and creative items to the menu. Some of her personal favorites are the Desperado and Italian Job omelets and the Outlaw Burger, which includes super-garlic aioli and marionberry habanero sauce. Check out the online menu to find out what else is cooking at West Pioneer Grill.