In finalizing the details for the sale of Louis Swiss Bakery, owner Felix Tornare agreed that the buyers could keep the original sign from his father’s Swiss bakery for as long as they keep the name.
Roaring Fork Valley customers will be relieved to know that the name — along with the concept and menu items — will remain much the same under new owners Andrew Helsley and Jill Soffer.
“The main thing was that they’re local,” Tornare said. “They were local and they wanted to keep the employees and wanted to keep it the same. …It was really important to my wife and I that we pass it on to people who wanted to do it the same.”
Helsley, executive chef of mountain food and beverage for Aspen Skiing Co., and business partner Soffer, a climate philanthropist and fan of cookies and croissants, officially take over Louis Swiss Bakery on Aug. 1. Tornare, who purchased the bakery’s building in 1998, will remain the landlord of the 3,000-square-foot operation at the Aspen Airport Business Center. A sales price was not disclosed.
Tornare has been with the bakery for 39.5 years, and, like the sign indicates, it’s been a family business for all of those. Tornare’s brother first moved to Aspen and bought the bakery in 1982, and when Tornare finished a bakery-pastry apprenticeship in his native Switzerland, he moved to Aspen at age 17 to help his brother. Both had learned the business growing up in their father’s Swiss bakery — his name was Louis.
“I wanted to help open the shop here, and never left,” he said.
In those early days, it was just the two brothers.
“Sometimes we didn’t have enough money for an apartment, and we would stay in the bakery,” Tornare said.
Their father eventually sold his Swiss bakery and moved to Aspen to help the operation here. Over the years, the bakery has changed locations three times, expanded to more than 15 employees and served at least 100 businesses throughout Western Colorado with wholesale breads, pastries and baked goods.
“Our intention is to continue the tradition of the venerable bakery that Louis Swiss is,” Helsley said. “We have an amazing staff and we are extremely grateful for that staff, and they will be staying on. And many of them have been there for 20-plus years.”
Tornare is selling the bakery to give more focus to his other job as owner of Milagro Ranch, which raises cattle that are processed for grass-fed beef. And he wants to spend more time simply not working.
“I had two full-time jobs that I ran in-between,” said Tornare. “Life is going by too fast.”
Helsley has been with SkiCo for 19 years, during which he’s overseen the opening of Sam’s and Elk Camp, managed catering for major events such as Winter X Games and ArtCrush, and coordinated food and beverage for numerous weddings and nonprofit benefits.
“Jill and I have been talking baking from the get-go,” he said. “She’s a passionate home baker, and in the past five years I’ve got into baking bread as a passion of mine. We both found out that Felix wanted to retire so we came together and said, ‘Let’s do this.’”
As co-owners, Helsley will manage the daily operations and logistics. Soffer, who’s “passionate about croissants, cookies and pies,” will weigh in on the business and creative side.
“We will keep servicing the part of the community that loves the bakery,” she said. “We’re not changing the basic menu at all. …It’s an asset to the community. But we need more cookies! This gives us an opportunity to make an income with the business and to be creative in an additional direction that’s more to our personal direction.”
Helsley and Soffer do have plans to make additions in the future. That includes offering more artisan breads, specialty cookies, pies and cakes, and expanding the retail side of the business which has exploded in the past year, thanks in part to the pandemic.
When wholesale business dried up as restaurants were shut down, retail operations ramped up, Tornare said. Wholesale used to make up 90% of the business, but now it’s closer to 50%. That wholesale should increase again as restaurants reopen, but Helsley and Soffer see the opportunity to capitalize on the trajectory.
“The cafe has become popular in the [AABC] with people starting to line up at 5 a.m.,” Helsley said. “We want to improve that space and maybe put some indoor seating for a cafe and a hub for the [AABC].”
Tornare said the transition is bittersweet, similar to the chocolate used in the bakery’s popular croissants. (Other menu favorites are cherry turnovers, empanadas and pupusas.) Over the course of the bakery’s nearly four-decade history in the valley, the constant has been community support.
“The biggest thing is that the locals have carried us,” Tornare said. “It was the little guys that carried us. We appreciate them so much, and it’s our pleasure when they come in. They have made us what we are.”