For more than 40 years, Baked in Telluride has been a local institution. When founder and longtime owner Jerry Greene put the bakery up for sale in 2018, many residents worried that the cherished business would disappear. Baked in Telluride had already risen from the ashes following a destructive fire in 2010. In recent years, it endured the massive ongoing construction projects at its doorstep. But without Greene, the future of the bakery was unclear.
Just over a year ago, Neal McKinley stepped in and purchased the business from Greene. In November of 2018, right before Thanksgiving, McKinley started running the business. McKinley spent years working in hospitality and has a background in cooking and baking. For the first year, Greene helped McKinley run the restaurant, staying on as an employee.
“It’s a great way for Neal to have access to the depth of knowledge I have as he takes it over,” Greene explained.
“The transition has been great,” McKinley said. “We’ve become good friends. We’re getting out skiing the next couple days — telemarking.”
And Greene is around if McKinley needs anything.
“I’m happy to not have to go to work every day, but I haven’t moved to Utah. I’m still in Telluride enjoying a great winter,” Greene said.
A Minneapolis native, McKinley grew up ski racing on a 200-foot hill with a rope tow. He discovered Telluride when he came to the town for a ski race and eventually moved here. Before landing in Colorado, McKinley managed a bed and breakfast in Rockport, Massachusetts and spent two years in Chile teaching English.
Prior to purchasing Baked in Telluride, McKinley had not intended to own a restaurant. When he heard that Greene was selling, however, McKinley decided to buy. He could not let the bakery go out of business, he explained.
“It was a moment of insanity,” he said. “Somebody’s got to do it, and the stars aligned.”
For McKinley, Baked in Telluride was an exceptional opportunity. The bakery is a well-established local hub with a dedicated staff. McKinley taught English at the high school and knew some of the employees through this program.
“It’s just a solid crew of employees,” he said. “And that’s been proven to be true.”
It was reassuring for Greene to have a Telluride resident who was familiar with the establishment buy Baked in Telluride.
“I’m happy to see a local family taking over, so we are continuing the tradition over here.”
As a new owner, McKinley tried to keep much of the same staff. Hospitality, however, often has a high turnover. And with the current administration, it is increasingly difficult to obtain the necessary H-2B visas for employees who immigrated to Telluride to work at the bakery.
When he purchased Baked in Telluride, McKinley inherited 41 years of recipes from Greene, all tested and adapted for high altitude cooking and baking. At the bakery, McKinley uses his background in chemistry ensure his recipes are well-adjusted for creation at 8,750 feet.
“I took a lot of chemistry in college, and baking is 100 percent chemistry,” McKinley said. “It affects the moisture, the flour. But that’s part of the fun.”
Greene praised McKinley’s work so far.
“The quality of the baking is just as good as ever. And I think all the customers are satisfied.”
Although McKinley intends to uphold many of the traditions and classic recipes at Baked in Telluride, he has started making some changes.
“We’re finally getting around to some changes, but little by little. I didn’t want to rock the boat,” McKinley said.
His first act was to improve the quality of certain key ingredients, starting with the cheese. All the pizzas are now topped with Mozzarella from Wisconsin. The “Grab and Go” case has some new, hearty options such as baked zitis and chicken pot pie. McKinley also incorporated some of his favorite bakery recipes into the rotation at Baked in Telluride.
“I added banana bread. That’s always been my go-to ski snack, so that was a no brainer,” he said.
Over the recent holiday season, Baked in Telluride was busy. The extra visitors increase the quantity of food consumed at the restaurant, and the bakery also keeps busy with orders for pies and other baked goods for people to serve at home. Especially after a long ski day, people come in hungry. Baked in Telluride even ran out of cheese and had to borrow from Brown Dog, who then also ran out. Sales were up 30 percent, McKinley noted.
“It’s just keeping up with the wave of people coming,” McKinley said.
To ensure every base was covered, McKinley worked all around the restaurant — in the front of the house, in the back and handling logistics.
“I do everything, whatever’s needed during the holidays,” he said.
Despite the holiday craze, McKinley had no complaints.
“All in all I was actually expecting more drama,” he said. “I’ve worked in so many restaurants I’ve seen the bad ones so I knew this was a well-oiled machine.”
Now that the holidays are over and town has settled down a little, McKinley is onto his next plan: increasing the quality and quantity of the deli meat. Customers can experience Baked in Telluride’s upgraded sandwiches starting this week.