It's a chilly September Saturday morning. The sunlight sparkles on the Front Range's snow-capped peaks. Few parking lots in the world can boast of such a panoramic vista and this one is packed.
But it's not the mountains drawing the crowd. The Colorado Springs Farm and Art Market has lured the masses into their hats and jackets. And many have come specifically to see Shawn Saunders, proprietor of Shawn's Bakery, and his table loaded with loaves of freshly baked bread, cinnamon rolls and croissants. Sales are brisk, and his customers enthusiastic.
Saunders is rapidly rising as one of Colorado Springs' premier bakers, and with good reason. His loaves are categorically delicious, with crispy crusts, chewy centers and clean, well-developed flavors. The Springs native, who began baking in 1992, is largely self-taught.
His career began at Phantom Canyon, where he was the second employee hired and went on to run the in-house bakery. Not long thereafter, Phantom partner John Hickenlooper sent Saunders to open similar bakeries in brewpubs around the country.
After seven years on the road, Saunders decided it was time to return home, slow down, and get the baking done right. This means using natural ingredients and allowing the dough to develop his basic sourdough requires 17 hours from start to finish. This combination of patience and quality makes for breads with dark crusts, dense interiors and remarkable character.
From three different starters a traditional white, sourdough starter, a 100 percent wheat and a 100 percent rye Saunders makes a variety of artisanal loaves, ranging from sliced white to herbed focaccia to black pumpernickel. His favorite is the Italian semolina bread, a long loaf whose crust gives way to a weighty, thick center that hangs on the teeth.
After short stints with The Cliff House in Manitou Springs and Colorado Bread Company, Saunders opened his own shop last February. It's been highly successful; Saunders has since placed his breads in numerous area restaurants (Joanie's Deli in Woodland Park, The Warehouse, Adam's Mountain Caf and Bistro de Pinto among them) and on the shelves at Mountain Mama Natural Foods.
"I'm lovin' every minute of it," Saunders says. While stressful and time-consuming, "it's just a passion. I enjoy the hell out of working the 12- to 15-hour days."
Saunders hopes to get a combination bakery and retail space in the future, complete with a wood-burning oven. We should all hope this happens sooner than later, because the French and sourdough loaves he baked in Rock Ledge Ranch's wood-fired horno at the recent "Fiddles, Vittles and Vino" event were some of the best I've ever eaten.
In the meantime, Saunders says he's ready to take orders by phone, even for single loaves. My advice: Call him, and fast. Shawn Saunders has tremendous talent, and you can taste his passion in every bite.
123 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 510-9824
No walk-ins accepted; call for orders or appointments.