By Mckenzie Moore
Every Friday in Paonia, Mountain Oven hosts a pop-up cafe, where the local community gathers for the sourdough breads and artisan pastries available there. The business originally began in Crested Butte in 2010 as a mini-bakery operating out of a home oven and has since developed and moved to Paonia.
Chris Sullivan, owner of Mountain Oven and one of the many bakers there, said the community is the main motivation behind the business. He said the local sourcing and community support at both various distributors and the pop-up cafe benefit not just the business, but its place in the network of the North Fork Valley.
“We get to channel people’s dollars that come and buy our stuff, and send those dollars to producers we support, which are first and foremost local chemical-free producers,” Sullivan said. “We moved to Paonia to embed ourselves in our community of growers. We’re hoping that by being here, we can both become further in alignment with our mission of fully localized sourcing, and also offer something that we think is really called for.”
Adjustments had to be made to the pop-up cafe events when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but Sullivan said the adjustments were necessary to both continue offering food resources to the community and providing for Mountain Oven’s core employees.
“We’re certainly trying to do what we can to make all of our products as available as they can be to people right now,” Sullivan said. “Even though it’s been a hard time for sure ... we’ve been trying to be creative to keep our staff employed and at full hours.”
Proceeds from the North Fork loaves sold last weekend went to benefit the International Coalition of Bakers’ program, “Bakers Against Racism.” Sullivan said it was a way to support social and racial justice from rural Colorado when most of it takes place in more urban areas.
“It’s awesome to see the artisan baking community coming together to support something like this,” Sullivan said. “From where we are, I think it’s important to try to find ways to have these conversations with each other and with ourselves.”
As the business moves forward to the rest of the summer and throughout the year (the pop-up cafes occur year-round), Sullivan hopes to push for even more locally-grown ingredients and close ties within the community. He mentioned that his relationship with local growers makes his work at Mountain Oven even more worthwhile.
“Our main focus is on local sourcing and uplifting our growers and highlighting the bounce of this place,” Sullivan said. “It’s way more fulfilling as a chef, as a baker … by the time we’re pulling a finished loaf of bread out of the oven, it’s a months-long relationship. It just makes the work a lot more deep and meaningful, and it makes our lives a lot more meaningful as well.”
Until then, Mountain Oven plans to continue to reach out to local growers to fully localize Mountain Oven’s sourcing and provide healthy food for the community during the pandemic. If people are not yet comfortable with the interaction of the pop-up cafes, Sullivan said they can order products online.
“We source the highest-quality stuff we possibly can, and then create our finished products in a way that tries to maximize nutritional value, digestibility and flavor,” Sullivan said. “People seem to be into it, so I think it’s going pretty good so far. ...We feel really grateful to be in this community.”
Mountain Oven offers wholesale distribution to the North Fork community and Gunnison Valley, with a bit more going up to the Roaring Fork. Mountain Oven stocks the wholesale customers on Mondays and Fridays. They also offer catering for both individuals and business events.
Mountain Oven’s products can be found at a number of local grocery stores and distributors, including Edesia Community Kitchen, Don’s Market, Indigo Autumn and Farm Runners.
The pop-up cafe takes place Fridays from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at 395 Clark Ave. in Paonia. They can also be found at the Aspen Saturday Market, taking place from June 6 through Oct. 3 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (near the intersection of Hunter Avenue and Hopkins Street) and at the Crested Butte Farmers Market, taking place from May 29 through Oct. 11 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (on the 200 block of Elk Ave.).
More information, along with online orders, can be found at mountainoven.com.