When he returned to the States, Baer toyed with the idea of dropping out of college to enroll in culinary school, eventually deciding to apprentice or stage instead. That landed him a place in the kitchen at The Kitchen, where he had his first encounters with local purveyors. "I was in over my head," he admits. "But it put me on a trajectory. I was really passionate about community supported agriculture."
That passion sent him to Eric Skokan's Black Cat Farm, where Baer spent a season working on the land. "I gained a huge appreciation for how food comes from the ground," he says. He also started toying with the notion of opening his own venture. "I saw what Eric was bringing to the community and realized I wanted to do that, too."
But it took a trip to Australia and New Zealand for him to really start to form ideas about what that might entail. "I worked in a café and lived with this family," he explains. "I started cooking for them and baking for them, and they said, 'You don't have to leave in two weeks, you can stay.' So I Got a job at a café and made Australian and British breakfasts and bangers and mash. That's when I realized I really like manipulating dough."
Plus, his mother happened to have some excellent recipes for crusts, which Baer saw as the basis of really good sweet and savory pastries. The foundation for Crust, a small batch bakery based in Boulder, was laid.
When Baer got back to the States, he started putting his operation together, renting a commercial spot and working on his menu, which changes with the seasons. "Most coffee shops in Boulder have the same goodies every day, all year long," he points out. "I wanted to do something more seasonal, so I'm using what I learned at Black Cat. Why not eat the way we're supposed to with the seasons?"
So he's incorporating Colorado's produce into his work. "I'm focusing on sweet pies right now," the baker says, noting that his summer board -- which included peach, citrus, strawberries and plums -- is now giving way to his cold season menu, which features apple, pear frangipan and chocolate walnut. "I also have 150 sugar pumpkins sitting in my basement waiting to be made into pies," he laughs.
Come Christmas, he'll also sell Christmas cookies and stollen, a German cake studded with dried fruit that's sliced and eaten with a little butter. And later this fall, Baer will roll out savory pastries, too, since he doesn't see many of those in Boulder.
Since he's launched, Baer has landed his pastries in the Ozo coffee shops and has plans to expand. The entrepreneur emphasizes, though, that he's growing, slowly. "I'm boot-strapping the whole thing," he says. "There's a lot to learn. I want to grow slowly so I can be smart about it."
Eventually, he'd like to open a retail space. For now, though, you can get his pastries at Ozo, or order his pies by emailing him via his website -- and he says the full website, complete with an automated ordering system, should launch next week.