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Stepping through the trellis archway into the Botanical Bakery of Denver is like entering a garden oasis. The space is accented with rose pink walls, touches of greenery and gold, and teal velvet couches to lounge on while you enjoy a beautiful floral pastry, steaming lavender chamomile tea, and a good book from the space’s feminism-forward library, stocked exclusively with women authors of poetry and literature. When owner and pastry mastermind Dylah Ray opened the bakery inside the Birdsall & Co. garden center on South Broadway this past September, her intention was to create a welcoming and creatively-inspiring space where women in particular could gather over comforting foods and take a break from the business of their days.
Though baking has been a longtime hobby for Ray, she had an extensive and demanding career before opening the bakery, working as a community organizer for grassroots organizations and nonprofits. (She worked as an organizer on former President Barack Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012, and as director for Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign in 2020.) Originally from Dallas, Texas, Ray studied international affairs at the University of Denver, attended graduate school in New York, and lived in California before moving back to the Mile High City in September 2021.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, her work with the Warren campaign had ended and she stayed home with her infant daughter. Along with the many changes occurring in the world at the time, Ray decided to end her career and her marriage, having felt unsatisfied in both areas of her life. Ultimately, she craved more creative expression and time with her daughter. During this transitional period in the solitude of quarantine, Ray occupied her time and found peace by baking and gardening, eventually combining the two solaces into inventive pastry, pie, and cookie flavors that would become Botanical Bakery’s menu.
All of the sweet treats produced in-house integrate a strong floral or botanical element. Specialties include the lavender shortbread cookies stamped with an array of colorful edible pansy flowers, latticed full-size and mini pies with fresh, local, organic fruit (including Palisade peaches in the summer), and Linzer cookies sandwiched with house-made raspberry jam and dusted with powdered sugar. “We want everything to remind you of nature and have a connection to nature,” Ray says.
Ray began selling her flowery treats at pop-ups and holiday markets in November 2021 prior to opening Botanical Bakery the following September in a collaborative effort with Morgan Huston, co-owner of the Birdsall garden center and Ray’s best friend of more than 15 years from community organizing and political groups at University of Denver. “It sounds like a drastic change [from] political organizer, political staffer to small entrepreneur starting a baking business and baking most of my day-to-day time, but it’s pretty similar—making individual connections with people in the community, learning about what people in the community want and need, where the gaps are, and then trying to fill those to make people’s day-to-day better,” Ray says.
Connection and collaboration are at the heart of the bakery. In addition to its signature floral items, the pastry case also features other Denver baked good favorites, including chai and lemon poppyseed donuts from Pandemic Donuts, as well as flaky pastries and rustic loaves from Rebel Bread. Ray also puts an emphasis on intentionally sourcing from other local women-owned businesses wherever possible, including fragrant chamomile, pine, and lavender simple syrups from Denver-based pop-up bar Substance and cold brew and bagged coffee beans from Copper Door Coffee Roasters. Tables of uplifting female-centric goods (including lady torso candles, “eat the pastryarchy” dish towels, and floral pressed jewelry and bookmarks) make up the rest of the bakery’s store.
“I think it’s rare but powerful to walk into spaces where that exists,” Ray says. “Baked goods are our bread and butter, but that’s [just] one way to facilitate community… I knew that I wanted the space to be more than that.”
Having felt empowered to take charge of her own life as a woman in politics and a single mother, Ray notes that there are many ways to facilitate social change, including by gathering and meeting with others over floral treats, connecting to nature, and engaging in creative projects in community. She hopes to provide an outlet for these through Botanical Bakery’s space and its many events hosted in collaboration with Birdsall garden center, including monthly poetry open mics.
“I feel that it’s really valuable when you know that you want to pursue something else—something that brings you joy and you feel passionate about and that provides you a creative outlet—to do it,” Ray says.
The Botanical Bakery of Denver is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more info on events, gatherings, and the latest menu items, follow @thebotanicalbakeryofdenver on Instagram or check out the events page on the bakery’s website.
2880 S. Broadway, Englewood