What do a pretzel bakery, a Snarf's sandwich shop, a gas station and two carnicerias — all scattered around west Denver — have in common? They occupy former Big Top convenience-store buildings, built in the late 1950s and early 1960s as part of a wave of distinctive, Googie-era architecture.
That pretzel bakery is Brockmeyer's, which Brock Coffman opened in mid-December at 6340 West Mississippi Avenue. He's owned the building since 2016, and was running Baker Street Pretzels there before he decided to upgrade to a full-service cafe with Brockmeyer's.
"It was just a shell when I bought it," Coffman says of the structure. "It didn't even have a working toilet."
Over the past four years, he's put plenty of sweat and elbow grease into the place. He installed a commercial kitchen and began making pretzels that Baker Street sold to craft breweries, which they could heat in toaster ovens and serve to customers. Then in 2018, when he was just 41, Coffman suffered a heart attack while cycling and decided to make some changes in his life. He quit drinking, paid more attention to his health, and began planning a coffeehouse and bakery he could put in the former Big Top.
"This thing is called a hexadecagon," Coffman explains, describing the nearly circular edifice with a tent-like roof that sweeps down in multiple graceful curves from a central axis. "Every one [of the Big Tops] is just a little different. It's got sixteen sides; there's a reason we usually use 90-degree angles in construction."
Shoehorning modern kitchen equipment built for square and rectangular spaces into a building with so many angles wasn't easy. And the age of the building, which was constructed in 1959, didn't help matters. But since there wasn't much left in the interior, at least Coffman didn't have to worry about reconfiguring walls or doors. He also didn't have to worry about staying within strict design guidelines, since the building does not have historic-landmark status with the City of Lakewood. William Sayre of the Denver firm Kellogg & Sayre designed the first Big Top; there were once fifteen of them around the metro area, though many have been demolished in recent years.
Now that the work is finished and Brockmeyer's is officially open, Coffman has returned to making pretzels, a skill he learned after a trip to Europe. "I never was formally trained as a baker," he notes. "I spent a couple of weeks in Bavaria drinking liters of beer and eating, and when I got home, I wondered why I couldn't find a good German pretzel here."
So he decided to make them himself, and soon discovered the secret: food-grade lye. The best soft pretzels have a distinctive, coffee-dark skin that comes from a dunk in lye water before the pretzels are baked. Many bakeries don't use lye, Coffman explains, since it's very caustic if not handled carefully, but he thinks other shortcuts (such as using baking soda instead of lye) don't cut the mustard. Lye increases the alkalinity of the pretzel's surface, causing it to brown quickly and evenly while adding a chewy texture and distinct flavor. Baking the pretzels on a pizza stone crisps the exterior to just the right level, he adds.
Bavarian-style pretzels are definitely Brockmeyer's signature items, but they're far from the only draw. Coffman conceived of the cafe as a neighborhood gathering place, where regulars could stop by in the morning for espresso drinks, tea and other hot beverages (don't miss the tres leches latte), along with sticky buns and pretzel bagels shmeared with housemade cream cheese, which Coffman creates from fresh cream, whole milk and a bacterial culture. He also makes his own mustard to go with the pretzels.
For lunch, there are pretzel-wrapped jalapeño-cheddar brats (the sausages come from local grinder Continental) and pulled-pork pretzel pockets, both of which go great with canned and bottled beers, hard seltzers and wines from the cafe's bar. "I'm not looking to be a full sandwich shop, but the idea is to have a beer garden by summer," Coffman says. The building is surrounded by a wide expanse of parking lot that would certainly accommodate that; a chain link fence left over from a U-Haul rental center previously on the property now designates the boundary of the cafe's liquor license.
Brockmeyer's is only a month old, but word has spread on nextdoor.com, and nearby Lakewood residents are responding well to the new addition in their neighborhood. While pretzels are a niche product, coffee isn't — but there aren't many other cafes in the area, Coffman points out. With his unique offerings in an offbeat setting, Coffman is definitely putting a new twist on the coffeehouse theme.
Brockmeyer's is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and from 8 a.m. to noon on Sundays. Order online at brockmeyers.square.site, or call 303-935-8935 for details.
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