by Nancy Christofferson
LA VETA- The Ryus Avenue Bakery in La Veta has been celebrating its 20th anniversary this week.
Twenty years of success in a changeable resort town must be the result of a very thoughtful business plan, right? Wrong!
According to Adrienne Berkun, co-owner of the bakery with Mary Backiel, there was no plan at all. When the pair purchased the historic building in 1991, they had no plans for it beyond the living quarters upstairs. It was more like, hmm, this would make a good bakery, so they started a bakery. Adrienne had come to La Veta from Santa Fe in 1985 with an eye to starting a restaurant with a longtime friend, the late Lars Kampmann. Both Adrienne and Lars, former residents of Gardner, wanted to return to the mountains and Huerfano County. They opened the Northern Lights Restaurant in June 1986 after leasing the kitchen and dining rooms in the then La Veta Lodge and operated it for about two years. Mary came to Huerfano County in 1984 where she became known for her needlework.
The pair opened Ryus Avenue Bakery on Saturday, July 6, 1991. Their hours were the same as they are now, 7 am to 1:30 pm Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The first day of business was more or less an open house to introduce the public to the bakery’s breads and pastries. The original recipes have been refined and updated with the changing technology only a baker would understand.
While the hours haven’t changed, there have been a few other modifications along the way. Yes, you can still see part of the equipment used back when the building housed the locker plant, but Mary and Adrienne have highlighted the history of the structure rather than trying to hide it, or worse, to destroy it. They even had a party back in 1994 to celebrate the building’s 90th birthday. Right above the door is the information that was the Stranger building of 1904. It is one of La Veta’s historic sandstone constructions built by the Coleman brothers of local fame. Owner John P. Stranger planned to have his general store here with a meeting hall on the second floor. The upstairs hall hosted all types of coal miners’ union meetings, church services, including Christian Science, clubs and the annual Stranger/Hector/Pickens/Gilbert family Christmas reunion and celebration.
Various businesses moved in and out, from grocery stores to a car dealership and repair garage. In 1945 it became the La Veta Locker Plant of Joe Robino and stayed that way for a good 25 years. Joe also ran a grocery here, and it was this phase of the Stranger building’s life that is most remembered by old-timers. After Joe retired and sold out, the building had several businesses until it was bought by Carmen Goodwin when she moved her West Peak Mountaineering Shop here from the site of the future Pañadero Ski Resort in 1977. It was Carmen who gave the place a complete remodeling to reveal the original interior walls in 1983. Tucked into spaces in the ceilings she found assorted memorabilia from a pool cue to postcards from the early 1900s. She closed the shop about 1990 and finally Mary and Adrienne bought the building.
During the past 20 years, Adrienne and Mary’s Ryus Avenue Bakery has been recognized as one of southern Colorado’s best bakeries, and the popularity of the place and its inventive menu of baked goods, soups, salads and sandwiches is proven three days a week by the long lines of hungry customers.