The first time you pick up a box of Ulster Street pastries some Saturday morning, you’ll wonder if you’ve come to the right place.
There’s the cul-de-sac of nearly identical townhomes, nothing announcing a promising new bakery save for your GPS. Maybe there’s another customer idling in the parked car in front of you, just like you, double-checking the address before you park and walk up.
(At this point, your fellow pastry-hunter could say something like, “My friends all went skiing today, but I stayed behind just for this.” And you’ll laugh in agreement that he made the right choice.)
And then, Carolyn Nugent will step onto her front porch. She’ll ask for your name and become genuinely delighted to see you, then return inside to fetch the pastry box you ordered and paid for nearly a week before.
Pastries in hand, you’ll be surprised at the satisfaction you get holding them. You’ll go home to your loved ones feeling accomplished, that small box buckled into your passenger seat.
“We’ve had such a wonderful connection with the people who have come to the bake sale,” Nugent said of this Saturday morning routine. “You know, everybody has feelings (about it), whether it’s nostalgia or just a treat.”
At the end of 2020, shortly after moving from Chicago, Nugent and her husband and 15-year baking partner, Alen Ramos, took advantage of Colorado’s Cottage Foods Act and started Ulster Street Pastry from their new home kitchen in Southeast Denver.
They’ve come to plant roots, Nugent said, after a decade and a half moving between Las Vegas, Europe, California and Chicago, working in some of the world’s most famous pastry kitchens along the way.
Their larger story is common: During the pandemic, the couple wanted to find a more affordable long-term living situation and a place to raise their 5-year-old son, Tomás. They came to Denver, where Ramos’ family (originally from Venezuela) now lives, and they set out getting to know their new city the best way they know how: through baked goods.
“We had just been looking for a way to connect through food with our neighbors and community,” Nugent said. “And we’re just looking to open a place of our own.”
By June, Ulster Street will upgrade to a proper bakery in Parker, selling daily-made French and American baked goods from croissants to cakes, sourdough loaves to doughnuts.
“We want to make these iconic American pastries that are inviting to people,” Nugent said, “But we didn’t work that hard in those kitchens for nothing.”
“Those kitchens” are where Nugent’s and Ramos’ common pandemic story start to sound incredibly unique.
Over the past 15 years, they’ve accumulated experience baking together at Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas; El Bulli in Spain; Pierre Hermé in Paris; The Fat Duck in the U.K.; L20 in Chicago; Bouchon Bakery in L.A.; Tartine in San Francisco; and many others.
Behind the scenes of these famous restaurants and bakeries, Ramos and Nugent were watching and learning, yes, but they also were helping to get their employers Michelin stars, to take the businesses international or to relaunch pastry programs and write best-selling cookbooks along the way.
“Me and Carolyn have been working together for 15 years,” Ramos explained, “and then working on the same station side-by-side for almost 12 years. It’s just second nature to us. We push each other on, and we help each other out at the same time, and we’re extremely flexible. Now for us just to be baking and selling and just hearing the response from people …,” he trailed off.
“I mean, it’s always been us, but it’s never been us,” Nugent jumped in. “We’re exposing ourselves for the first time ever, which is scary, but also feels good, because we’re doing what we love and people are coming.”
Just a day after their Saturday morning bake sale, Nugent and Ramos were nearly sold out of baked goods for the next week. Denverites already have caught wind of their limited offering of Berliner doughnuts, apple fritters, sticky buns, scones and slices of pound cake and angel food cake.
And the Ulster Street cul-de-sac has seen new and repeat customers, from a family of motorcyclists to a son buying pastries for his career-baker dad (and sending Nugent and Ramos a note with his father’s response to the fritters).
“Our goal is to still keep the spirit of the pop-up alive on Saturdays,” Nugent said. “We want to be stationed (in Parker), but we still want to be able to have a reach in Denver.”
For now, customers who get their orders in can expect to arrive Saturday morning just as the pastries are warm. Nugent and Ramos will have been awake since 1 or 2 a.m., when they start rolling and baking, then frying and glazing. Once Tomás wakes up, they let him choose a single treat for the morning. Come 9 a.m., they’re packing praline puffs and pecan buns and watching for customers through the front door.
“It’s a little bit of a push,” Nugent said. “We are literally putting things in boxes when people come, and that product is fresh.”
To order, check ulsterpastrypopup.square.site on weekends for pickup the following week. They sell out fast, but watch for news of the forthcoming Parker bakery, which should be opening sometime in June.
More baked goods, please!
Check out these other Denver-area cottage bakeries, offering home delivery or pick-up around you.
El Secreto Denver – Puerto Rican pastries from a husband-and-wife team, featuring flavors like horchata, tres leches, churros and quesito cream. (elsecretodenver.com)
Black Box Bakery – “Spaced out” baked goods, from croissants to bourekas and cinnamon rolls, delivered within Denver. (blackboxbakery.com)
Gnarly Mountain Cookies – Oversized cookies in seasonal flavors from a local entrepreneur offering wholesale and direct-to-consumer deliveries. (gnarlymountaincookies.com)
Mtn High Challah – Local sisters’ tongue-in-cheek challah bakery, offering bread for pickup and delivery on Fridays. (instagram.com/mtnhighchallah)
Funky Flame – Wood-fired breads and biscuits delivered to your door from Denver’ Sunnyside neighborhood, and featuring a subscription service. (thefunkyflame.com)