Saturday morning sees a steady flow of customers at 1900 Barker Bakery & Café in east Lawrence. Young couples and graying ones, families with kids, students, city commissioners and Jayhawks fans. Owners Taylor and Reagan Petrehn greet them all with easy smiles.
The 12-seat bakery fills up by midmorning, but no one seems to mind the short wait as employees slip croissants and bread into white paper sacks, warm quiches in the oven or pull espresso shots. The chatter and laughter contribute to what the brothers call a “relational space.”
“We want this to be a place where people are comfortable sharing stories and communicating ideas,” Taylor says. “It’s all tied into how we’ve built this space.”
Only a counter separates customers from where Taylor and Reagan work, and they often pause to answer questions about the eggs, produce and wheat they buy from area farms or the coffees being featured.
“We are showcasing something that’s already really good,” Taylor says. “That’s all got a story to tell, and we have to tell it.”
The brothers’ bakery joins a mini-boom of specialty food shops in the neighborhood.
Alchemy Coffee & Bake House opened near the intersection of 19th and Massachusetts streets in 2013, joining the long-running Thursday farmers market at Cottin’s Hardware & Rental at 1823 Massachusetts. Hank Charcuterie arrived last year at 19th and Massachusetts, adding fresh and traditionally preserved local meat to the mix. 1900 Barker opened last summer, boosting the neighborhood’s appeal as a weekend food destination and helping build a sense of community among residents.
In fact, most of Hank Charcuterie’s regulars live within walking distance, owner Vaughn Good says, and many stop in after having visited other retailers in the three-block stretch — a sort of modern take on old-fashioned market shopping.
“What’s cool about the businesses in this area is that they’re all very specific,” Good says. “Taylor really concentrates on bread, we do the meat thing, and people can shop how they used to.”
That vibe was part of the appeal for the Petrehns, who grew up in Paola, about half an hour south of Kansas City. Both were home-schooled and both attended Johnson County Community College. Taylor graduated with honors at age 19; he’s now 24, and his brother is 21.
They might be young, but they’ve each accrued an enviable amount of culinary experience. After finishing at JCCC, Taylor headed to California for a job with Dean & DeLuca. Baking was the last thing on his mind, at least until he returned to Kansas City and started making pizza at Trezo Vino under the tutelage of chef Colby Garrelts.
“That’s where I saw I was good at it,” Taylor says.
When Trezo Vino closed, he did overlapping stints at Pizzabella, Yummylicious Cookie Co. and Parisi Artisan Coffee. Taylor also built a 2,000-pound pizza oven in his parents’ backyard, where he and Reagan hosted pizza dinners.
But it was while doing an internship at Fevere Artisan Bakery + Bread Studio that Taylor realized he had a feel for bread and an itch to start his own business. So when an opportunity to buy the building on Barker came up, he took it.
The bungalow, which was previously a laundry, had seen better days. A water main break had rotted the floor joists, and the water and electrical systems were outdated. Taylor and Reagan renovated it mostly themselves with help from their father, a professional contractor.
Windows now line the east wall, so sunshine streams over the white oak floor. White walls and exposed ductwork add to the bakery’s open feel, and art, shelves showcasing select coffee roasters and small vases of flowers complete the transformation.
“It’s been a big deal in our neighborhood. This building has been vacant for a long time,” says Erin Besson, who lives nearby. “It’s beautiful now.”
1900 Barker is open Wednesday through Saturday, but the brothers routinely log 60-plus-hour workweeks. Part of that time is spent like any entrepreneur’s: coordinating with suppliers, doing the books and so on. But much more goes into perfecting the bakery’s menu, including its bread.
Describing Taylor’s loaves as artisanal is tempting; he says his bread is simply bread made the way it used to be.
“It’s just flour, grain, water and salt,” Taylor says. “The things that turn it into bread are time, temperature, leavening and heat. All those things affect flavor in one way or another.”
And getting them right takes time.
Taylor begins with heirloom Turkey Red hard winter wheat, the same wheat immigrants brought to Kansas in the 1870s. It’s grown by Common Harvest Farms of Lawrence and ground in-house. Taylor also sprouts some of the wheat to add to various breads, a process that takes at least 24 hours. All together, Turkey Red accounts for about a quarter of the wheat used at the bakery; the rest of the flour comes from Central Milling in Utah.
The bread itself begins the day before it will be baked, when Taylor combines flour and water for what he describes as an extended hydration period. That helps break down starches and allows the gluten to absorb plenty of water — both things that improve digestibility, Taylor says.
Next, he adds the starter (a culture that must be fed twice daily, except on weekends, when it rests in the refrigerator) and salt and leaves the mixture to ferment for several hours. There’s no kneading the gooey mass, just an occasional folding to incorporate air bubbles and mix in other ingredients. Taylor calls it his utility dough, because it’s the foundation of most of his breads.
Some is baked on its own, becoming Taylor’s Utility Loaf. Some is combined with flax, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, sunflower, sesame, rye and sprouted wheat to become Seeded Utility Bread. Apple-raisin-walnut and Kalamata olive-rosemary versions recently rounded out the oft-changing list, along with the Danish-style Rivertrail Rye.
It’s all shaped into loaves, placed into proofing baskets (except the rye — it goes into bread pans) and stowed overnight in the walk-in cooler. The next morning, Taylor brings it to room temperature, transfers each loaf onto a wooden peel and slips it into the oven.
The resulting loaves are deeply browned, with a crisp crust and open, tender crumb appreciated by both customers and chefs like Hank Charcuterie’s Good.
“Sometimes I walk down to get the bread, and it’s still hot,” says Good, who features it on his Friday and Saturday evening dinner menu and at Sunday brunch. “That’s pretty great.”
Taylor initially concentrated on bread; he added pastries so customers would have something sweet to enjoy with their coffee. His customers had their own ideas, though.
“Our pastry side has just gone crazy,” Taylor says.
During the summer, his galettes incorporated local gooseberries, peaches, plums and raspberries. Now that autumn has arrived, he has upped croissant production to include traditional, chocolate and lemon cream versions, as well as a cinnamon bun made with the same dough.
Savory selections recently included quiche with a spelt crust, eggs, potatoes, kale, poblano chilies and white cheddar and a tartine du jour — a slice of utility bread piled with cherry tomatoes, kale and Hank Charcuterie bacon.
The Petrehns have cultivated a collection of growers to supply ingredients, including Trails West Farms in Eudora, Gieringer’s Orchard in Edgerton, Crum’s Heirlooms in Bonner Springs and Moon on the Meadow and Buller Family Farm (both Common Harvest partners).
“We’re really fortunate here to have a lot of great farmers,” he says.
1900 Barker is about more than food, though. Coffee gets equal billing. Reagan oversees the program, fueled by a passion that began at Revocup in Overland Park while he was a student at JCCC.
“That’s when I realized coffee was more than one thing,” Reagan says. “Before that, I thought coffee was just coffee.”
Reagan went on to work at the Roasterie and Parisi and to compete in coffee competitions (he was a finalist in the 2013 Big Central Regional Barista Competition). A position with the American-owned Green House Coffee took him to China, where he also studied the language and then became a certified trainer with the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe. In 2014, he happily returned stateside to help Taylor launch 1900 Barker.
“It was too good an opportunity to pass up,” Reagan says. “I wouldn’t have done it with anyone else.”
Reagan features two roasters at a time — currently Heart Coffee Roasters from Portland, Ore., and Supersonic Coffee of Berkeley, Calif., Espresso are the focus — and also offers specialty drinks like his espresso tonic. Made with espresso, coriander-lime syrup and Boylan Heritage Tonic water, served over ice with a lime peel garnish, it makes an excellent afternoon pick-me-up.
A second drink takes a different tack by combining espresso, a whiskey-flavored caramel syrup and graham cracker-infused milk. If that doesn’t bring s’mores to mind, the garnish will — a toasted homemade hickory-smoked vanilla bean marshmallow.
For all that, coffee at 1900 Barker is hardly pretentious. If you want a straightforward brewed cup, you can get that, too.
“I want coffee to be accessible and easy. You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy it,” Reagan says.
The Petrehns say their business will continue to evolve. Maybe they’ll open another day, or add a patio space, or hire an assistant baker. The menu will continue to change seasonally (watch 1900 Barker’s Facebook page for details). They aren’t in a hurry to get big fast, though.
“I don’t feel like this all has to happen right away,” Taylor says. “We’re still really new, and we don’t want to push all this stuff. We’d rather tone it down and make sure it’s awesome.”
To reach freelancer Anne Brockhoff: email@example.com.