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Clayton Farmer's Market: Meet Bryan Dennert of Black Bear Bakery

The bakery offers artisan breads, vegetarian pizza, desserts and more. Now, the St. Louis business that traces its roots back 97 years is in need of fans' financial support to keep going.

Black Bear Bakery traces its roots to the Lickhalter family, which opened its company for business in 1915 in St. Louis. The Lickhalters ran their bakery until the 1970s, and the rye starter dough they used was saved and passed along to the Black Bear folks, who opened for business more than 15 years ago.

"We are working to maintain a worker-owned collective bakery," said Bryan Dennert, a cooperative member at the business. Bakery staff help run a booth weekly at the , which is open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays in the Brown Shoe parking lot.

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Popular foods includes granola; artisan breads such as rye, pumpernickel and caraway rye; vegetarian focaccia mozzarella pizzas; and desserts, including several vegan varieties.  The bakery also is one of two remaining St. Louis businesses that boils and bakes its bagels as opposed to steaming them.

“I love their bakery products,” stated Deb Henderson, market manager at the Clayton Farmer’s Market, in an email. “I can always count on freshness and excellent flavor without the addition of preservatives, dough conditioners and other additives, which allows me the pleasure of choosing from a wide array of breads each week.”   

She added: “Their granolas are a morning tradition and go great sprinkled on fruit desserts. My personal favorite: the Maple Pecan. I used it in a peach cobbler I made this summer, and it gave the cobbler that special something.  My 'guilty pleasure' (or one of them)? Their focaccia pizzas, always delicious, whatever the toppings.”

But all that history is on the line: Several staff recently had to spend time away from the bakery for a couple of months, putting the company in a financial bind. Black Bear has taken itself out of retail markets, Dennert said, and is focusing on sales at farmers markets and in its cafe, 2639 Cherokee St. in downtown St. Louis.

The company hopes to bring back its Saturday brunch at least once a month starting in late September, Dennert said. Staff hope to offer the brunch weekly as soon as possible; to add cafe hours and offer lunch; and to offer Sunday brunches later on.

Donations will be accepted through a Kickstarter campaign expected to launch soon. Staff must raise $50,000 in 45 days.

In exchange for a contribution of $5 or more, donors will be able to double their money in baked goods. For example, someone who donates $5 toward the campaign will be able to purchase $10 in baked goods from Black Bear. All proceeds will benefit the bakery.

Perks for larger donations will include free coffee for a year and gift bags. Those who give $10,000 or more will get to sponsor a soup kitchen once a month for three years for up to 100 people, Dennert said.

People already have begun expressing an interest in making donations, he said.

Black Bear products also are sold at farmers markets in Tower Grove, Soulard and Maplewood. The bakery supports activism in such areas as equal rights and workers' rights and invites people to speak and hold discussions at its downtown St. Louis building.

First and foremost, Black Bear exists for the benefit of the community, Dennert said.

Editor's note: For more about Black Bear Bakery online, like its Facebook page. Information about the upcoming Kickstarter campaign will be posted here as soon as it becomes available, Dennert said. Additional information is available at blackbearbakery.org.

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