New bakery symbolizes a renaissance for Phippsburg
June 1, 2018
PHIPPSBURG — Doubling the number of retail businesses in Phippsburg, the railroad-themed “Bakery Express” opened its doors in April. And it’s only getting busier.
The bright and cheery breakfast and lunch spot offers coffee, homemade pastries, “box car” breakfasts — the “Rio Grande” features cornbread, eggs, hatch green chilis, cheese and corn — and daily lunch specials.
But when Robert and Anita Hawkins purchased the building in 2006, they didn’t imagine themselves starting their retirement by running a bakery.
Best known as Phippsburg’s post office, the small red brick building on Highway 131 was seen by the Hawkinses as an investment — something someone else could turn into a viable business.
After major renovations, they found a few tenants, but nothing stuck.
The post office leases 200 square feet, which Robert says “puts a dent” in expenses, but after too many months and years of the rest of the building sitting vacant, the Hawkinses decided to go a different direction.
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“Let’s do something — let’s get something going," Robert said. "We’ve done all the heavy lifting.”
While the long-term plan is to find someone younger to take it over, Robert said they wanted to prove that a business there was feasible, and fun.
Phippsburg, an unincorporated community of around 200 people, is home to a handful of other businesses, mostly operated out of homes, including landscape design, car repair, bed and breakfast and the feed store.
On Thursdays, the church turns into the “P-burg mall,” a thrift store of which profits go to maintaining the street lights and the park.
But many storefronts remain vacant in the quiet town that began in the early 1900s as a coal company town and major railroad hub.
“I’m having so much fun with the train theme,” Robert said, of his location across from the switchyard.
Also an architect in Steamboat, Robert now calls himself the “three-compartment sink conductor” and “espresso engineer.”
His touches as an architect and railroad enthusiast can be found all over the bakery. Shelves made with reclaimed wood have beautiful railroad-inspired brackets, and there’s an additional room of tables — named “the locomotive lounge” — featuring historic photos.
Robert lights up when he starts talking about the major engineering involved in the Moffat Road from Denver.
“I just can’t believe what they went through,” he said, of building the railroad over passes and through mountains.
While Robert loves the design side of being an architect, the bakery is a welcome break from the stressful business side, he said, as well as a totally new challenge.
“I have zero food experience," Robert said. "I’m a total rookie. And I’m old.”
Anita, his wife of 40 years, does all the baking. Her first job in the area was as a cook at a ranch outside Yampa in the early 1970s. She uses a sourdough starter that has been in Routt County for a century.
Anita heads in at 4:30 a.m. to bake her cherry almond scones, apple carrot muffins, lemon blueberry coffee cake and gluten-free flourless peanut butter cookies.
Regular customer Mary Melius calls Anita a “very gifted baker.”
Melius goes in every morning for a paper, her mail and one of the Anita's muffins or scones.
“The bakery makes me smile every time I see it,” she said.
Melius and her husband relocated to Phippsburg from outside Steamboat to get away from the hustle and crowds.
“We wanted to go back to the old way of life — the ranchers, the railroaders," Melius said. "It was kind of like going home.”
While she says she's too old to run a baker, for now, Anita is thoroughly enjoying the experience. In particular, she loves the looks of joy and surprise when people walk in for the first time. The couple both enjoys the social aspect and the mix of people who come through their doors.
They are still busy making improvements, with a large deck nearly complete. Built around existing trees, the deck will add seating in a shady, garden-like setting tucked away from the highway. With the help of a U.S.D.A. grant, they added solar panels.
And the Hawkins aren’t the only ones working to revitalize Phippsburg.
Across the street, Jeremy and Brandi Dudley are remodeling the motel, with plans to open in the next year. They're planning for a family-style lodge with many rooms having kitchenettes.
Every room will have a unique theme — from fishing to the Flat Tops — all related to South Routt, Brandi said. They also embrace the town's railroad history and are carefully leaving pieces that keep that history intact and alive.
The old Iacovetto Market — vacant for decades — was also recently purchased by new owners with plans for renovation.
The Bakery Express is open from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.