Here's a formula you wouldn't think would work for a bakery in the middle of downtown Denver: Customers enter at one end of a shop, drop a dollar into a giant plastic jug, retrieve a small paper bag filled with three fresh-from-the-oven cookies and exit out the other end. There's no greeting, no register, no hemming and hawing or custom orders holding up the line.

Debbie Kuehn, owner of the Santa Fe Cookie Co., 303 16th Street, has been called the "Cookie Nazi," a title that makes her laugh. "People are used to being waited on, and they get mad that we don't do that, but I don't think they get that customer service isn't part of the price," reasons Kuehn. But really, who cares about pomp and circumstance when you can get three cookies for a buck?

Customers can choose from bags filled with a single flavor, or ones with a mixed selection. Depending on the day, you might also see cupcakes, brownies or muffins, all available for a song. It's one of the best deals in town.

Sugar High: Santa Fe Cookie Co.

The self-serve bakery concept happened organically. Kuehn supplies cookie dough balls to local ski resorts, though one of the resorts prefers them already baked. The smell of hot cookies wafting from the bakery was too much for some cookie addicts, so Kuehn started leaving bags of cookies out, along with a jar where people could drop their money. Eventually, the business grew to what it is now: a regular cookie fix.
We decided to live on the edge and grabbed a bag with three different flavors: chocolate chip, peanut butter and oatmeal raisin. All of them were scooped directly off warm trays and slipped into a bag moments before we snatched it up. Though chocolate chip is the company's best seller, it was a touch oversalted for our taste. The peanut butter, however, achieved the perfect salty-sweet balance and maintained a crumbly edge around a softer center. That left the oatmeal raisin as the surprise favorite. The cookie was packed with plump raisins and held an almost caramel-y center that melted on the tongue. 
Kuehn credits the success of the Santa Fe Cookie Co. to quality and a simple system: "The cookies are cheap, really good, fast and easy," she explains. She also thinks the honor system makes people feel good. "Sometimes," she says, "we'll hear that we're the only place all day that's trusted someone."

Located in the lower level of the Republic Plaza, the Santa Fe Cookie Co., which received a Westword Best of award, is open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Three cookies: $1

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