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Denver’s Cookie Lady, Debbie Kuehn, has been a local legend since the 1980s. Even after she died suddenly in 2017, her niece Alexis McLean kept her bakery, Santa Fe Cookie Co., open downtown and her spirit alive in the form of freshly baked confections.
But when the pandemic hit in spring 2020, Santa Fe Cookie Co.’s customer base at the 16th Street Mall evaporated overnight. McLean closed the business last May, but lucky for fans, she’s planning a comeback.
Santa Fe Cookie Co. is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to raise $5,000 to assist with reopening costs at a new location. McLean is in the process of securing a storefront in Denver — though she’s mum on where exactly she might land — in hopes of reopening by mid-August.
The shop won’t be a full retail operation, McLean said. Instead, Santa Fe Cookie Co. will primarily sell its beloved cookies, cupcakes and brownies online for pickup and delivery. But one or two days a week, people will be able to swing by and drop a donation in a jar in exchange for some fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies.
“I want to keep that part of what my aunt created and that energy going, because I think that’s really important for the business for people to get to experience that,” McLean said. “It’s a good vibe.”
Longtime fans can expect to find all their favorite flavors, McLean said, including chocolate chip, space chip (M&M), shortbread with pinon nuts, cranberry-oatmeal, pecan-praline and plain sugar — all made according to her aunt Debbie’s recipes.
“She perfected those recipes here for 30-plus years, so I’m not touching those,” McLean said.
New to the menu, Santa Fe Cookie Co. will offer bigger cookie sizes and McLean, an artist, will take custom orders and do holiday designs for Christmas, Valentine’s Day and the like. The shop will also sell vegan and gluten-free brownies, as well as gluten-free almond crisps.
Folks who donate any amount to Santa Fe Cookie Co.’s GoFundMe will get a cookie at the grand opening, McLean said. A $20 donation buys a classic bag of three confections and a $50 donation earns a baker’s dozen. Donations will help cover the cost of the company’s new lease, some new equipment and ingredients for the first batches of cookies.
Throughout the pandemic, McLean said there were times that she considered not reopening the business, but former customers checking in and sending encouraging notes inspired her to fire the cookie ovens back up.
“My aunt would always say it’s about the love we make them with. There’s something to that,” McLean said. “There’s a really healing energy that I think brings people back to childhood or grandma’s house, or mom making cookies in the kitchen. It’s a happy, simple thing that needs to be out in the world.”