You know Taylor Petrehn’s food. You may have had his pizza in Leawood, his cookies at City Market or his croissants at Union Station. You just haven’t met the baker, who has been quietly shaping the carbohydrate scene in Kansas City the past four years. But all that will change in about four months.
Some time in October, Petrehn, alongside his younger brother Reagan, will open 1900 Barker – a bakery and cafe in the Barker neighborhood of Lawrence. And it’s there that the 22-year-old baker will hand you warm, crusty loaves meant for your dinner table.
“The space is located right in the middle of the neighborhood and we’ll be the Barker neighborhood bake house,” Petrehn says. “We’ll adapt to the needs of the community. I live in the neighborhood and there is something so cool about being rooted in a place.”
On a recent Tuesday, Petrehn stops into Decade – a coffee shop that opened in East Lawrence in April and sells his pastries – for a cup and conversation. A Baldwin Denim cap says, ‘KC,’ but his heart is in Lawrence – the city where he lives and will shortly work full-time. A tattoo of a pig peeks out from his shirtsleeve, a reminder that before he was a baker, Petrehn was going to be a chef.
The kid from Paola, Kansas, started working at Dean & Deluca at the age of 14 and enrolled in Johnson County Community College two years later.
“I was a terrible baker. I was the kid who accidentally put salt in the sugar bin and ruined the whole class lab for the day,” Petrehn says. “My whole life I wanted to be a cook and open a restaurant.”
He thought he was on that track when Dean & Deluca sent him to a store out in Napa Valley. But at 19, he was working more than 80 hours a week and managing 13 employees. He was worried that he’d get burned out before he’d even dug in.
So he packed up his Honda Accord and drove 30 hours cross-country, stopping once for some waffles and a nap in a diner.
“I quit my job on a dream that I would start working for a chef in Kansas City,” Petrehn says.
He e-mailed his resume to Bluestem and they asked him to stage in the kitchen. A week later a position came open – manning the pizza station at the now-shuttered Trezo Vino, which Megan and Colby Garrelts, the co-owners of Bluestem and Rye, had briefly run on a contract basis.
“[Chef Colby Garrelts] thinking I had the ability to take over a station – the best chef in the Midwest — I was really empowered by that,” Petrehn says.
In an effort to impress Garrelts and educate himself, Petrehn began researching pizza online. Research turned to obsession over Neopolitan-style pizza – a thin crust pie cooked for a short period of time at a very high temperature. In pursuit of something better, Petrehn built what he dubbed ‘The Asherie’ – a 10,000 pound, wood-fired, brick pizza oven in his parent’s backyard in Paola. In order to pay for the oven, he hosted five-course dinners; teaching couples about the art of pizza making.
After Trezo Vino closed, Petrehn began working at Pizzabella in the Crossroads. He worked there for nine months in 2012 before helping a friend launch the Yummylicious Cookie Company. The cookies were sold at the City Market and led him to his most recent position as a baker for Parisi. He designed their central kitchen, which creates pastries for their cafes. And the more he baked, the more he realized he was drawn to what was possible with just a few ingredients.
“I remember picking up Tartine Bread, by Chad Robertson in Barnes and Noble and thinking, ‘this is what I’m really designed to do.’ There was a sustainable lifestyle in baking and the pace is different. It’s the simplicity of it.”
Petrehn again set about building his own oven – packing 100 pounds of bricks into the oven in his home kitchen – in an effort to create the ideal environment for baking bread. Around that time, he connected with Fred Spompinato – the owner of Fervere – who invited him to come bake at the shop. Once a week for eight months, Petrehn came to learn in exchange for his labor. Over the holiday season last year, he drew his first paycheck from Fervere.
“For such talented people to accept me, it’s really kind of humbling. These are literally some of the best bread bakers in the world and they’re paying me to make bread.”
Petrehn’s experiences on the West Side and in his home kitchen convinced him that bread was his future.
“My personality is not boisterous enough to holler over the line. Baking is such a relational environment. There are no secrets. Bakers want to share,” Petrehn says.
In January, he began to think about transforming the shuttered Laundromat at 1900 Barker a few doors down from his house. In April, the city gave him zoning approval and he approached his brother, Reagan (a former barista at Parisi, now in China), about running the coffee side of the operation.
“We’re going to offer fresh loaves – people can stop by on their way home and have a fresh, crusty loaf of bread on their dinner table,” Petrehn says. “Bread is bread. It’s stable. As soon as it becomes this royal thing, it’s too expensive to be appreciated by everybody.”
1900 Barker will have five daily breads with one of those offerings changing on a daily basis. The breads will likely include a baguette and a utility loaf made with spelt and kamut. But Petrehn admits he’s still searching for that one perfect loaf.
“I see the loaf in my head. I don’t know that I’ve ever made it. I think I’ve gotten close. It’s really balanced. It has a really substantial crust and a really moist interior. But not so big holes that the butter will fall through, but big enough to get aromatics. There are just three ingredients: flour, salt and water. And the flavors are from the sourdough and how you ferment it. I want a mild sour taste, but nothing like the San Francisco Sourdough. Just a slight tang, something that’s semi-transformed so the body can digest it.”
The shop will have pastries: sweet and savory croissants, chocolate chip cookies and Canele du Bordeaux. The oven will be a gas-deck oven (although Petrehn hopes to add a wood-burning oven in the future) in order to allow him to bake throughout the day.
On the coffee side, 1900 Barker will feature multiple roasters, who have a focus on single origin coffee. Petrehn points to Second Best Coffee as a good example of the model they’re following.
“We’ll let people know what good coffee is about and serve it in a way that is accessible,” Petrehn says.
The space will be overhauled in the next four months. Petrehn is looking to add a small patio and find a way to work with Vaughn Good’s Hank Charcuterie (a nearby butcher shop in the works that received its approval from the Health Department earlier this week).
While he’s building, Petrehn will continue to experiment with bread and likely hold weekly pop-up sales. Kansas Citians will have a chance to try his whey and kamut levain this Saturday, July 11, at Fervere. Just look for the 1900 Barker loaf.
“I definitely think I’ll be making bread for the rest of my life and still not have everything figured out,” Petrehn says. “But I’m excited to see how it transforms from one year to the next and have the city experience it as I experience it.”[Pizza, bread and location images via Taylor Petrehn]