It’s been said that “man does not live by bread alone” but for some, it might be the most important ingredient in a life well lived. Meet Michael Bortz, a Denver entrepreneur for whom bread has become more than the proverbial staff of life; it’s a fulfilling way to support his family and those of some 20-plus employees, as well as nurture and support those in need, especially children.
The owner and director of City Bakery, established in 2007, and the more recent retail location, City Bakery Café, opened in 2013, Bortz runs the wholesale end of his baked goods operation like a well-oiled machine—24 hours a day, seven days a week. The production plant in north Denver at 5454 Washington St. (which also turns out formidable desserts) receives raw materials on a regular basis; every Friday, for example, 12,000 pounds of flour rolls up to the bakery’s door. At the same time, finished goods, fresh from the ovens, head out to the company’s appreciative clientele.
The enticing retail café at 726 Lincoln St. serves up a variety of soups, salads and mouthwatering sandwiches assembled on fresh artisan breads, plus comforting dessert treats, all served in a simple setting. Bread selections include baguettes, sour dough, ciabatta, beer pretzels, rye breads, coffee cakes and more. Laid-back and full of personal touches like vintage baker’s tools, the restaurant features seasonal vignettes at the front door, be it a wheelbarrow full of petunias in summer or a harvest scene in the fall. Eager customers grab lunch indoors or on the patio when weather allows. Most catch a snip of conversation with Bortz who shows up daily by 10:00 a.m. to make soups and schmooze with his customers.
While discussing the scope of City Bakery, Bortz credits his dedicated staff, delivery personnel, and his own resilience. Making bread is physically grueling and, as a hands-on baker, he’s done it all, from start to finish, formulating each recipe and checking for the perfect taste, texture and crust. “Do you know the secret to great bread?” he asked with an exuberant smile. “Time. You can’t rush any of it.” Bortz should know. He built this remarkable business from the ground up with recipes, tested and proven. Handcrafting food is practically in his genes; his grandfather, originally from Dresden, Germany, was a chocolatier during the Depression who once made a living selling custom chocolates door-to-door. He later settled in America after the war. Experience taught Bortz that great results in a bakery like his allow for no shortcuts and no instant gratification, a lesson he swears by. “Call me old school,” he said appreciatively. “You have to earn your due. Nothing comes easy.”
Today City Bakery can boast over 150 restaurant accounts, with familiar names like Shanahan’s, Elway’s, Snooze, Ocean Prime and others—many of Denver’s elite dining spots. Postino’s, recently opened in Highlands, receives seven different kinds of bread made just for them. The list includes a few hotel restaurants and independent Denver grocers as well: one upscale Sixth Avenue grocer orders 400 dozen burger buns weekly. In spite of a full production schedule, the requests for new accounts just keep pouring in. “The food scene in Denver is out of control,” said Bortz. “We easily get an email or phone call requesting service every single day. But how great is that? We’ve become a food lover’s city and some major talent serves serious customers here.”
A trained chef himself with credentials from the Culinary Institute of America, one of the most prestigious cooking schools in America, Bortz actually went from high school straight into their program. He loved chocolate and learned the art of candy creation. Then came further study in Europe specializing in pastry, followed by a stint in Phoenix in a major bakery. “I knew I wanted to be a chef as a kid. I actually applied to the Institute in the ninth grade.” Bortz later moved to Denver in 1990 from Reading, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two children. As a youth, he’d spent many summers with his parents hiking and fishing in Big Sky, Montana. Seeking a place near the Rockies to both make a living and enjoy the great outdoors, he found a new home in Colorado.
Worth the Sacrifice
But almost none of what comes out of the bakery can match what Bortz puts into the community that has been so good to him. His deep seated sense of philanthropy and altruism make his commitment to his product and the relentless schedule required to produce it, worth the sacrifice. “I’d say we commit to underwrite and serve at least 25 different fundraisers per year for a variety of worthwhile organizations. It feels good, plus it’s a wonderful way to showcase who we are. I happen to love dogs so if there are puppies involved… that’s for certain. And children—no child should hurt or go hungry. If there’s a way I can help, I will.”
A few of those organizations fortunate enough to warrant his support include the Dumb Friends League, Give Paws, Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, Invest in Kids, John Elway’s Hot Rocks Grillers for the Denver Health Foundation’s, the March of Dimes, RoundUp River Ranch, Work Options for Women, and Project Angel Heart to name a few. Last fall he served up two 300-pound monster chocolate bombe cakes for the prestigious Morgan Adams Foundation’s Concours d’Elegance, an annual exotic car show and fundraiser that helps ensure that children of the Rocky Mountain Region diagnosed with cancer have access to the best possible research and therapeutic options available. (For the uninitiated, a chocolate bombe is a French confectionery, a ganache covered, dome-shaped cake hiding chocolate mousse inside.)
Bortz’s personal credo happens to be “perseverance and persistence,” an old fashioned motto in this fast-moving era. Defining one satisfied and successful entrepreneur, it’s an understatement when he says, “I enjoy what I do. Food is love.”
When You Go:
City Bakery Cafe
726 Lincoln St., Denver
Hours: Mon. through Fri.: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Sat. 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
BIO: Denver-based freelance writer and author, Corinne Joy Brown, confesses to also being a bona fide foodie and found herself thrilled to learn about a new bakery and sandwich restaurant in town. Having now sampled most of its wares, she can confirm it’s worth the trip.
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