Denver-based Handcraft Bakery sells a variety of wholesale pastries crafted by the hands of pastry chef Olivia Brewer. Treats such as oat bars filled with fresh raspberries, six types of bagels, muffins, ham-and-cheese croissants and quiche are made fresh daily by the baker and her team. But Brewer hasn't always been a baker. A former engineer, she quit her job three and a half years ago to pursue her culinary passion.
After graduating from North Carolina State University with a degree in construction engineering and management, Brewer took a year to evaluate her future options. Although she had little previous kitchen experience, she found herself in Idaho working at a bakery. This gave her a foundation of knowledge and ignited her desire to bake. "I quit what some people would call my 'real job' to pursue my passion. I left [engineering] because I wanted to run a small business and give that a go, and bake pastries. ... I loved baking at my house but had no time for it," she recounts.
Brewer began small, selling her treats at farmers' markets, because she wanted direct customer feedback. "Without feedback you don't know if you're doing something other people like or if you're just doing what you like," explains Brewer. At the time, Handcraft was just her doing all of the baking, packaging and labeling out of the kitchen in her house. But within six months, she moved into a commissary, and now, three years later, offers a menu of more than 65 items and employs four people.
In August, Handcraft made the jump into retail, taking over a kiosk at 1999 Broadway. The location, on the main level of the forty-story office building that houses the IRS and many other businesses, was formerly run by Roostercat, and Handcraft supplied the coffee shop with pastries. When Roostercat owner Colin Floom decided to close all of his shops to pursue his film career, Brewer jumped at the opportunity to try her hand at retail. "We kind of came into coffee through the back door," she says.
In addition to a rotating selection of pastries, Handcraft serves coffee from Pablo's and Copper Door, kombucha, and grab-n-go items like sandwiches and salads.
Wholesale pastries are the backbone of Handcraft's business, but Brewer would one day like expand into a brick-and-mortar bakery, ideally one where people can see the magic happening. "I want a bakery space that... you can see the whole kitchen through glass or a half-wall. I want people to see that there are still bakeries making everything from scratch every day," she says. "A lot of bakeries order their puff pastry dough already laminated. That's the tedious, temperature-sensitive part."
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It also happens to be Brewer's favorite part of baking — alternating layers of dough and butter to make a pastry used for croissants. She's enjoyed applying her engineering background to baking by figuring out systems and making the baking process more efficient.
Every day but Saturday, Brewer can be found doing prep work, starting at 8 p.m. and typically finishing at 4 a.m. "3 o'clock in the morning is a weird time to be out — it's mostly nurses and security guards," she notes.
Nonetheless, she still loves her job. "If you stay up all night for something, you like it. Whether every day feels like you like it, you do."
Handcraft's pastries can be found at various coffee shops in the Denver metro area, including Boyer's, Monk & Mongoose in Lone Tree, Stargazer and, of course, the cafe at 1999 Broadway, which is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m to 3 p.m (and closed Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays).