“We just can’t keep up with cookie production. If I’m out of a customer’s favorite cookie, I hear about it for sure!”
I first visited the Hopscotch Bakery in Pueblo soon after it opened several years ago, and I remember being impressed with the selection and quality of freshly baked cookies. On that first visit, I was hooked on their Kitchen Sink cookies, filled with nuts, raisins, chocolate chips and oats, and I seem to find a new favorite each time I come in.
When owner Mary Oreskovich first opened Hopscotch in 2005, she didn’t necessarily expect the cookies to be the biggest draw, but now, “We just can’t keep up with cookie production. If I’m out of a customer’s favorite cookie, I hear about it for sure.”
“I just wanted to help make Pueblo a little better and brighter.”
One might not expect to find a highly trained chef, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, running a cookie bakery in Pueblo, but Mary says that she always thought she’d return to the town where she grew up. “I wouldn’t say that I wanted to ‘give back’ in a sort of goody two-shoes way, but I just wanted to help make Pueblo a little better and brighter,” she muses.
After returning to Pueblo 14 years ago and opening the Steel City Diner with her husband, Mary noticed a lack of good, all-around bakeries in Southern Colorado. “There are plenty of good bakeries in this area that have a niche, but nothing really contemporary.” Her answer was to start a bakery of her own, and the cookies are certainly not the only draw. With fun, creative flavors of ice cream and gelato, cakes, breads and savory lunch items, all made in-house, there are plenty of reasons to love Hopscotch Bakery.
However, getting people to notice a bakery in Pueblo has sometimes proven to be a challenge. “It can be a good thing in that we’re still a well-kept secret,” Mary explains, “but it’s kind of disconcerting to have something that could compete with almost any bakery anywhere, and people still haven’t heard about it.”
Still, a good portion of their weekend customers come from Colorado Springs, or even further afield, and many of them come in for one item: The Orange Beast. When asked to describe this legendary pastry, Mary says,” It starts with a house-made croissant dough, which is a limited dough made by hand with rolling pins, and it’s layered over and over with orange zest and little bit of orange liqueur that we make in-house and then it’s rolled up. After being baked, it’s this orange-y, caramel-y, buttery pastry. Oh, it’s so good! We make them every morning and always run out.” And if that’s not enough to make you run to Pueblo at the first available moment, I don’t know what would!
Although Hopscotch had sold out of the Orange Beasts on the afternoon I visited, I did get to sample some of their chocolate shortbread while I talked with Mary about her affection for Pueblo and the craft of baking:
What is your background and how did you get into baking?
I always loved to bake–watching my mom and both of my grandmothers. Not necessarily cooking, but I always did love to bake, I think because I always loved eating! It was something that I always enjoyed but didn’t necessarily think of as a career. So after school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was lucky enough to have parents who encouraged me to do things I love, not just to find a job. Then after ending a long-term relationship, I decided to move to New York and go to culinary school. I enrolled in the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) in New York in the culinary program, so I didn’t limit myself, but I knew I would specialize in baking when I got out.
Did you always think you would return to Pueblo?
Eventually I thought I would, because it was important to me to be where my parents and family are. I met my husband at culinary school and then we moved to Portland and got most of our training there. Then we decided that Pueblo was ripe for something different. So my husband and I moved back and opened a restaurant called the Steel City Diner, and owned that for 7 years. We actually opened the bakery while we still had the diner, and we just celebrated 9 years!
“There is one guy who has come in twice a week, every week, since we’ve been open, for one cookie. And I want him to come in for his one cookie, because I know him by name and we can chat. I can’t even put a price on that!”
What’s your best-selling item?
Well, cookies for sure! We just can’t keep up with cookie production, which is really fun. Our bar cookies and cupcakes and little individual cakes all sell well. We make all of our own ice cream and sorbets, but the bread and butter of the place has always been the cookies.
What are the benefits of running a bakery in a smaller community?
I know everyone who comes in by their first name. If I don’t know, then I ask, and the next time I’ll know them by their first name. And that, I love! I love having regulars. There is one guy who has come in twice a week, every week, since we’ve been open, for one cookie. And I want him to come in for his one cookie, because I know him by name and we can chat. I can’t even put a price on that!
What do you think you’ve learned in your nine years of owning a bakery, maybe some advice you’d pass on to someone opening a bakery?
You have to put in the work. You can’t think that it’s going to be glamorous and you’ll make a ton of money. I think some of these food shows do our industry a disservice, because they make it look so easy instead of showing the hard work.
The second thing: There were naysayers at first who said, “You’re going to sell cookies for $1.50? You’ll never make it.” But if you stick to your guns and produce a quality product and never compromise, it’s bound to be a winner.
I love the playful, childhood theme that you have with your logo and the name Hopscotch. What inspired that?
I just loved to play hopscotch when I was little; it was my favorite game! And I just thought that people take food so seriously, particularly desserts, in terms of deprivation or saying, “I can’t have that”, but you can! You can enjoy it and have fun and then go take a walk around the block. I wanted to make it fun again for people.
“I love the meditative quality of doing the same thing over and over and over but making sure that it’s done the same way every time.”
What do you love most about the craft of baking?
I love the meditative quality of doing the same thing over and over and over but making sure that it’s done the same way every time. I do take the craft aspect extremely seriously; people often lose sight of that. These young hot shots want to do all the fancy elements and I say, “Well, if you can scoop 10,000 cookies and have them be the same every time, then we can talk about doing the fancy stuff.”
I love that my day is kind of the same. I come in every day at the same time and I turn on the ovens at the same time and I love that. I’m very regimented, and pastry chefs, our work is like that.
As you head into your tenth year, do you have any plans moving forward?
Well, this might be news to my husband, but I love and miss doing plated desserts, so I would love eventually to just have a tiny little, you know, 8-10 tables of nothing but desserts. That’s what I would love to do! That’s always been in the back of my mind. Our pastries here are very creative but I’m limited in terms of composed desserts. But just getting through the tenth year will be amazing.