The concept of a baker’s dozen originated years before Aspen. But the city offered a new twist: a dozen bakers, over the years. They turned out bread and pies as daily staples. And while picking up your daily bread, you could purchase a cigar at the same counter.
Four bakeries spiced up life in downtown Aspen, all at one time. Three shops lined up along Hyman Avenue, two separated by a single store. Compared to other types of retailers, they stayed in business for longer periods. One lasted nearly 50 years.
The first to open, Aspen Bakery and Restaurant, started serving customers in 1881. Although every few years the business changed ownership and name, and diversified its products, the bakery part endured. Mr. Moore, the first owner, sold to Ed Patrick a few years later. Patrick renamed the store Aspen Bakery and Candy Factory. A few years later O.M. Gilpin bought it and changed the name to Aspen Bakery and Grocery Company.
During the 1880s, the store sold lunches. In 1890, it featured bonbons, ice cream and plum pudding — plus free delivery. Who knows how that business survived into the 1920s? Did longevity derive from their creampuffs? Or did living up to its motto keep customers coming back for more “cleanliness and courteous treatment”?
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The Vienna Bakery strived toward a different motto, “great care in little things.” Frank Meyer ran the business from 1884 until it closed in 1902. Meyer specialized in bread and pies. But he also offered groceries, such as Swiss cheese and Jersey Creamery butter. He also sold tobacco products, many to customers of the barbershop next door. Attesting to the bakery’s success, after the first three years Meyer bought two Hyman Avenue lots for $4,000 ($95,000 in today’s dollars). On the lots he built two brick structures, one to house the bakery.
Meyer had immigrated from Germany. As did many of Aspen’s merchants, he invested in mines and was a pillar of the community. With partners he directed the Favorite Mining and Milling Company, and owned claims in the Columbia Mining Lode above Ashcroft. He served on the executive committee of the Grocers and Butchers Protective Association, and was president of the fraternity Sons of Herman. Near the end of the century he was elected a Pitkin County Commissioner.
Partners Hahnewald and Brokstedt opened Colorado Bakery downtown in 1891. Five years later they closed.
German baker Raymond Reide owned City Bakery, which featured “the finest cakes and pies.” Diversified like the Vienna Bakery, Reide’s shop sold fresh fruit in season, canned goods, fish and candy. He delivered products such as his popular gingerbread in his “bake wagon.” His motto “goods as cheap as the cheapest” wouldn’t attract Aspen’s tourists today. With the passing of a few generations, tastes have changed.
At the turn of the century City Bakery became a coffee shop and served “moca and Java the best grown.” Following the trends of 1907, the bakery sold fruitcake and went into the wedding cake business.
While Reide maintained ownership, he hired managers to do the work. He burned through five in one decade. He and Mary, his wife, stayed busy in their social circles. He helped found and served as a longtime officer of Aspen’s Woodmen of America. Mary was a longtime officer of the Columbia Circle.
In 1908 Reide moved to Denver and left Mary Zupancis to run his business. L.G Seaman, her replacement, introduced donuts at five cents a dozen, a bargain even in today’s currency ($1).
Aspen’s high altitude and dry air challenges even a home baker, more so at quantity. I remember chatting with the baker of Pour La France when it opened in Aspen. He lamented the effort required, even in modern times, to develop a commercially viable French bread for the city. Few of Aspen’s residents would arise in the wee hours to work and inhale flour dust.
Bakery owners touted a precious baker who, as Frank Meyer decreed, “puts his reputation in his loaf.”
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at email@example.com