"The community here, it's so warm, and something I've never experienced," says Allison Declercq. In the past year, she's not only built a following for her wood-fired bread, pizza and other items, but a circle of supporters dubbed her place the "Funky Fam" — thanks, in part, to her Instagram
dance sessions in front of a bright-yellow wood-fired oven with her dog, Magoo.
The Funky Flame
began as a delivery-only cottage-foods business last December, but now you can find Declercq at the Radiator, at 2139 West 44th Avenue in the Sunnyside neighborhood, four days a week. She's cooking up a menu of pizzas and more from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, and 4 to 8 p.m. Monday, when you can score a pie and a beer for $15 ($10 for those in the hospitality industry). On Saturdays from 9 to 11 a.m., she serves up pastries and other baked goodies that are also available for pre-order
But the journey to get to this point has been full of the unexpected. Declercq grew up in Detroit and went to school at the University of California, Berkeley. "I started my career in tech. Did that for a few years just because I graduated from Cal and everybody goes to San Francisco and is in tech," she says. But she was unhappy at a desk job, so she left and spent time in South America, traveling and taking jobs at farms and in kitchens. "I was trying to sustain staying there on as little money as possible for as long as possible," she recalls.
But she also fell in love with food and cooking, and when she returned to San Francisco, Declercq got a catering job and tried to find a way to spend even more time in the kitchen. "Then I kind of took on a sourdough craze by accident...so I was doing a lot of baking," she says, and eventually she put on a few biscuit pop-ups.
The Funky Flame/Instagram
When a job at bakery/cafe opened up, Declercq embellished her professional kitchen experience to get the gig. "I really got to see everything in that space, because they did everything. But I spent the first two months mostly burning myself and being a liability," she admits. She stuck with it, ended up going to the San Francisco Baking Institute and continued working in the industry.
In early 2020, Declercq was general manager of a bakery, nannying on the side, and considering leaving the Bay Area after a decade there. "I lost part of that [nanny job] and then the pandemic hit," she recalls. "It was 2020, and I was just like, 'If I'm gonna do it, now is a good time to take that risk, take that leap.'" She moved in with friends in Golden in April 2020, landed a brewery job and began taking a business class offered by Jefferson County just "to feel like I was still doing something with my life." She knew that she wanted to start a business, but wasn't quite sure of the direction.
"It was really that summer," she remembers. "Protests were going on, and the world was literally on fire — and figuratively — and I was feeling really overwhelmed. So I was like, 'Okay, if I'm going to start something, what's one thing that's going to put some good into this world?'"
Her answer: bread.
The Funky Flame added breakfast sandwiches to its Sunday lineup at the Radiator.
The Funky Flame
She began simply enough, with the concept of delivering a few loaves to neighbors. "I didn't think it could ever turn into what it did," she says. After moving into her own place in Denver's Sunnyside neighborhood in October 2020, she found a wood-fired oven on wheels for sale in Fort Collins and decided it was a low-risk investment. Around the same time, she found the Colorado Grain Chain
, a nonprofit founded by Moxy Bread Co. owner Andy Clark that connects farmers, millers and bakers who embrace regenerative farming practices.
The connection, community and goals of the Colorado Grain Chain inspired Declercq. "It's something I definitely didn't have in the city and have found here in such a big way that I didn't even know I needed or wanted or yearned so much for," she says. "So I loved what they were doing, and I was like, 'I want to support this.'"
Her first week, she sold twenty loaves through a post on NextDoor; she made her initial deliveries on December 9, 2020. Things took off from there.
Throughout her time selling as a delivery-only business, Declercq met not only customers who have become friends, but also other bakers, many of whom have similar stories of pandemic-born businesses. "It really feels like an uplifting network of people. It's not a competitive thing," she notes.
She also met her partner, Colton Steiner, through that network, about the same time she added pizza (dubbed "Funky ’Za") to her lineup. "I actually was buying flour through him," she says. Steiner worked at Dry Storage, an artisan mill in Boulder from ie Hospitality
, the group behind restaurants Bruto, the Wolf's Tailor and Basta. "I had no idea he had worked at Basta and had been making wood-fired pizzas forever," she adds.
Pizza, but make it funky, with a pink-hued beet-infused crust.
The Funky Flame/Instagram
With the help of Steiner, Funky ’Za grew in popularity, and through pop-ups in Sunnyside, Declercq connected with the owners of the Radiator. Now she's settled her business into that new home — at least for the winter.
Declercq is starting to think about getting her own brick-and-mortar, though she wants to be conscious of how that business fits in the neighborhood she now calls home. "I landed in Sunnyside kind of by accident," she admits, but she's taken the time to learn more about its history and its residents' hopes for the future. "I like that we landed on this corner spot [at the Radiator] and I get to just listen and talk to the community and the people walking by to really understand what they want and need."
Maintaining an accessible price point is important, she says, and her focus now is figuring out how to balance that with "using high-quality ingredients and doing things the right way and still making money."
As the future of her business takes shape, Declercq is grateful for the many lessons she's learned since starting the Funky Flame a year ago. "There's the philosophical lessons," she says. "I feel like listening to the community and believing in myself was huge...and, you know, ask people how to do taxes. Don't try to figure it out yourself."