Take a Bite Out of Denver's Cookie Scene (2023)

Denver has become a city full of bakeries. Last year, we heralded a "hot baked goods summer," but the wave of new places to find artisan bread, delicate pastries and crisp-chewy bagels has not slowed. While many talented bakers are focused on churning out showstopping flaky creations, like Poulette Bakeshop's citrus custard-filled laminated brioche buns or Rebel Bread's tiramisu croissant knots, it can feel as though more traditional favorites — like cookies — are getting overlooked in the hubbub.

There are a few local connoisseurs, though, that believe the humble cookie can be just as innovative and delightful as the trendiest laminated pastry.

Kristy Greenwood Bortz founded Victory Love + Cookies in 2008. Two years earlier, she'd been diagnosed with cancer and took a hiatus from her baking and management position at theDenver Bread Company, where she'd worked for a decade with the bakery's owner, Greg Bortz.

"He always says I came with the building, because I was the second employee that he hired," Greenwood Bortz shares. She remembers wanting to come back to the bakery while taking time off to heal in 2006 and 2007 — but with a few changes. "I was a good employee to [Greg], but I don't really like taking orders," she admits. "So when I decided to open my own thing, it was just because I wanted to make my own rules." The two (who are now married) have shared the Denver Bread Company space with their separate but complementary concepts for nearly fifteen years.

Kristy Greenwood Bortz and her husband, Greg Bortz, have worked together in the Denver Bread Company space for nearly 25 years.

Kristy Greenwood Bortz

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If you visit the retail counter at 3200 Irving Street, you can see how Greenwood Bortz's creativity has flourished within the Victory Love + Cookies brand. While the bakery does have some familiar flavors, like chocolate chunk and oatmeal raisin, there are up to two dozen different types available on any given day, from cayenne and black pepper-spiced chocolate Diablos to Strawberry Margarita cookies that get sprayed with tequila and triple sec when they're pulled hot out of the oven. The selection also rotates to include seasonal flavors like salty maple pecan shortbread and chocolate ginger cookies. "Our flavors are a little more geared toward adults," Greenwood Bortz explains. "They're not nearly as sweet as most cookie companies'."

For the holidays, Victory Love + Cookies will be offering grab-and-go gift boxes as well as prepared gingerbread cookie dough that's ready to roll, bake and decorate at home. "Yes, I want people to come in and buy my cookies, but I also want them to have the experience of doing that in their own home with their children," Greenwood Bortz says. The holiday offerings will be available starting on December 15. In the meantime, Victory Love + Cookies has its best-selling ginger cookies and other cold-weather flavors available now, and provides nationwide shipping year-round.

Near Congress Park, on the corner of Colfax Avenue and York Street, is The Urban Cookie. Founder Denon Moore is the former owner and operator of the Denver Cupcake Truck as well as multiple baking-related businesses, including Cake Crumbs Bakery in Park Hill. After ten growth-filled but strenuous years in the industry, she sold her businesses in 2017 with plans to transition to another field, but she couldn't ignore the call to bake. With help from her husband and sons, she opened the cookie shop in January 2021.

With her most recent venture, Moore focuses on well-loved cookies that come from family recipes, new ideas from team members and customer requests. The Urban Cookie menu consists of fourteen seasonally rotating flavors. The newest menu, launched in early November, introduced chocolate crinkle, ginger molasses, raspberry thumbprints and a sweet-potato pie cookie with a toasted marshmallow fluff topping. There are also favorites like Rebellious Red Velvet, Iced Cranberry & Oat and Double Chocolate Chunk & Chip available all year.

One of the Urban Cookie's specialties is the Grandma's Misfit, which is a spritz-style cookie. Traditionally, spritz cookies are made using a cookie press, which pushes the dough through a cutout to form it into its final shape (versus rolling out and cutting with cookie cutters, as you might do with shortbread). Grandma's Misfit is a bright-green almond-flavored cookie topped with fluffy dollops of cinnamon buttercream and sprinkles. It was inspired by Moore's grandmother, who would make the cookies for her as a child. "I think that's one that is totally unique from any other cookie shop in town. We know if someone is looking for something different, they can come in and take that one home," Moore notes.

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The Urban Cookie has a rotating menu that includes seasonal, vegan and gluten-free options.

Denver Dish

All of Moore's cookies (and take-home dough) are sold in sustainable packaging and made with the best ingredients that she can find: Belgian chocolate for the chocolate chunk cookies, high-end butter, and granulated sugar derived from sugarcane rather than beets. "It just gives things a little bit richer flavor, a little bit deeper flavor," Moore explains. "But I think the main ingredient is the institution; it's the way we run it. We have happy employees making cookies with love, and I think that shows when a customer comes in to get a cookie."

With her history of bakery success in mind, Moore has an exciting new project on the horizon: franchising. She and her team recently completed all the legal obligations to start sharing her concept, and they hope to grow from one to a hundred stores in the next ten years. "We'll have a similar concept where our other store owners will be able to contribute to their local economy and community," she says.

There will also be a giving program established in each of the franchised stores to give back to each outpost's local neighborhood. Moore says that she hopes to fight the stigma that franchises are just big corporations where customers don't know what's going on behind the scenes, instead emphasizing that the new stores will be locally owned and operated. "We're hoping each of our individual store owners will be doing exactly what we're doing here in Denver in their community," she explains.

The Urban Cookie is located at 2260 East Colfax Avenue; in addition to visiting its retail counter, you can get cookies delivered to you locally, shipped across the country or catered for events.

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You can find Gnarly Mountain cookies in restaurants, local markets and banquet halls around Colorado.

Gnarly Mountain

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The recipe for Gnarly Mountain starts with giant soft cookies, a handful of elevated flavors and a generous sprinkle of epic Colorado branding. The company, founded by Zack Weiss in the pandemic days of 2020, is carving fresh trails by leaning into distribution rather than a traditional brick-and-mortar bakeshop.

"Gnarly Mountain kind of took off once we started doing wholesale. A lot of companies just said yes right away, which was a really nice sign," Weiss remembers. The individually wrapped cookies can be found in breweries, coffee shops, pizzerias and local markets (like Leevers Locavore) in metro Denver. Recently, Gnarly Mountain was picked up by a mountain distributor that has brought the snowboarder-branded cookies to ski towns like Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge, as well as New Mexico.

Weiss and his team have an "all flavors welcome" approach. The nine core offerings include Peanut Butter & Mountain Jelly and Horchata Cinnamon Breakfast cookies. Colorado isn't just infused into Gnarly Mountain's branding; it's instilled into the cookies themselves, like the Colorado Sweet Corn, made with whole-grain cornmeal and freeze-dried corn kernels, and the 10 Barrel Brewing Company collab named Coffee Carbomb. The cookies aren't cloying, either. Weiss's favorite, the Salted Key Lime Pie, packs a punch of citrus and salt as well as a touch of sweetness. "We try to tickle as many tastebuds as possible when doing these, because they're big cookies. They're full desserts. You want a full experience when you're having them," he says.

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Zack Weiss founded Gnarly Mountain during the pandemic in 2020.

Gnarly Mountain

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Weiss is a natural entrepreneur. Before Gnarly Mountain, he created a variety of other food businesses, including a pizzeria, a few salad restaurants and a virtual cheesesteak shop. His main focus now, though, is expanding the Gnarly Mountain brand. He expects the business to grow two to three times in the next few months, and has several new products in the pipeline. First up: Weiss promises that new flavors, including root beer float and cayenne caramel apple, are going to be added to the cookie lineup soon to bring the "Gnarly Nine" up to a full "Dude's Dozen." Gnarly Mountain is also launching cookie dough to restaurants and banquet halls so that the cookies can be baked fresh in-house (along with a vision for retail dough sales happening down the road).

Beyond cookies, Gnarly Mountain also plans to debut cold brew coffee early next year — but don't expect the same old tired coffee pairings: This collection will include flavors like blueberry and campfire, to encourage the drinker to "wake up and shred." Merch such as hats, shirts, beanies and stickers will also be available online soon.

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Gnarly Mountain will launch merch (as well as cold brew coffee) in the next few months.

Gnarly Mountain/Instagram

"The business is going in a thousand different directions," Weiss says. "We're trying to turn into a really fun lifestyle brand and let people know that it's an easy Colorado business to support." In addition to purchasing the cookies in local restaurants and retail shops, you can order online for cookies by mail. Right now the Gnarly Mountain team can ship anywhere in Colorado, and national shipping should be available by Thanksgiving. Keep an eye on its website for everything that's new and gnarly in the next few months.

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With the holiday season nearly upon us, it's a great time to check up on your local cookie experts. The treats make for easy but thoughtful gifts (after all, everyone loves a cookie). Or go on a cookie tour around the city and stop by other bakeries, such as Bakery Four, Maggie & Molly's Bakery and Gateaux Bakery, then schedule a pickup from The Flour Shop. Just don't forget the milk!

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