By Dawne Belloise
Most long-time locals remember that before Sam Lumb was a successful realtor, he ran the most popular nosh and social place in Crested Butte for many years back in the 1980s called the Bakery Café, which was located at Third and Elk. Maybe you’re even among the lucky who still have one of the 12,000 large coffee mugs made with the café’s name emblazoned on it. Sam had bought the bakery, then named Old World Bakery, after it had fallen on hard times and its doors were shuttered during the recession of 1981. He renamed it and opened in July that same year. The new bakery had 14 seats and seven tables, “And we rocked,” Sam grins. Sam has had three different full careers in his 45 years in town where he built a home and a family.
Sam came from a modest family, growing up in the western suburbs of Chicago. He played little league baseball but tells that childhood was less activity driven when he was a kid. “It wasn’t as structured as it is now. My family was keen on camping and we’d go on car camping trips to the upper peninsula of Michigan or Wisconsin. I was fortunate to have a wonderful family and caring parents.”
He graduated from high school in 1965 and attended Drake University in Iowa where he earned a liberal arts degree in economics in 1969. It was there that he met his wife Nan at a mixer dance. Sam then moved to the north side of Chicago. “It was hip, edgy and youthful back then. It was the ‘70s, and there were restaurants and clubs. I would ride the L train to work as a social worker for disadvantaged and poor people in neighborhoods like the southside.”
He and Nan thoroughly enjoyed the city life there, going to the clubs to see legends like Howling Wolf, Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. They were in their mid-20s and life was good. They were also avid hikers and outdoors people, camping in Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Boundary Waters, a national park on the north side of Lake Superior. “And then we got into Colorado backpacking and fell in love with the West,” he recalls. They arrived in Colorado in 1972 and visited the rebel hippie town of Ward, above Boulder, and Rocky Mountain National Park.
In 1977, they decided to get married, and moved to Crested Butte that June. “It was rustic and unpolished. The houses were old and many were dilapidated but we fell in love with CB,” he says, even though opportunities were limited. “It didn’t have the economy or the cultural resources that it has today. What it did have was a significant collection of the old-timers, the old mining families. I got to know a great many of them.”
The newlyweds rented a house next to the Forest Queen where the CB Arts Fair was right outside their door. “We grabbed a broom and swept Elk Avenue after the fair. It was an afternoon of feeling the life we wanted to live,” he reminisces. “That first summer, I put the nail belt on and went to work as a carpenter.” From his days as a social worker, Sam felt there was an opportunity to help people by working as a marshal, and was hired in the spring of 1978 after attending the law academy. Reflecting the persona of CB, the marshals back then wore an appropriate uniform in the old west flavor. “I wore a leather vest and a gold star. I favored wearing cowboy boots and we were very western.” One tragedy from that time sticks with him still. “It was 11 p.m. and there was a terrible accident on Elk in front of the Forest Queen where a victim was trapped in the car.” The victim died that night, and the haunting memory of that scene remains. “You grow up a lot when you have to go in the middle of the night and tell someone their loved one has died. I appreciated who I worked with and enjoyed the job, but I needed to look for better opportunity.”
The Bakery Café was that opportunity. “We were ultra food-oriented. We customized menus, everything was baked fresh on the spot, not fried, and anything that was eight hours old headed to the day-old basket. We provided for visitors and locals. We gave away thousands of cups of water to everyone and there were always lots of kids hanging around after school for cookies.” The café would also conduct kitchen tours and field trips for the kids. In 1984, during a remodel project in the café, Sam tells “We had to fill a hole in the floor and thought it was a good spot for a time capsule. The kindergarteners brought over a time capsule, and we poured the concrete and tiled over it, and it’s still there, inside the front door,” he says of the perhaps forgotten capsule to be rediscovered in some future remodel of what is currently Pitas in Paradise.
Every day, the bakery rolled out fresh breads, cinnamon rolls, fruit pies, danishes, true European croissants, and they made thousands of eclairs over the years. “And all made from scratch. We had a wonderful crew of many people that gave their heartfelt work as bakery staff, like Jimmy Faust, Jim Michael, Carol Bauer, Berit Deer and every year we had a bakery family Christmas party.”
The bakery was also a meeting space where plans were made and events were planned, like the Rubber Duckie Race and the first Wildflower Festival meetings. “It was a community space,” he says of his 20-year business that closed in 2001. “People still talk and recollect the enjoyment of Mountain Munchies and Sausage en Croute, they were the fast food of town. They were damn good,” he says proudly, but affirms that he still won’t give out the sacred recipes.
“It was a magical time. We literally fed millions, from governors to celebrities, but most importantly, we fed locals.” The bakery’s tagline was from a time when Crested Butte turned on a much slower pace, “Wakin’ up Crested Butte since 1981,” and Sam wants a side note to his epitaph to read, “Is this for here or to go?”
After the bakery days, Sam became a realtor in 2001. “I had built homes and remodeled. I had an interest in building, contracting and construction, so the weathervane pointed to working in real estate.” In between and throughout his 45-year tenure here, Sam built two homes for his family, a house in Gunnison for his mom, became a volunteer firefighter on the early crew, was a founding member of the High Country Citizens Alliance (HCCA) and was at the first Red Lady Salvation Ball and many thereafter. He spent a four-year term on the county planning commission. He also played softball for 25 years on Sunshine’s Bathhouse team in the ‘80s and he’s now been with the Hares for 20 years where he still pitches. As a broker, Sam joined with LIV Sotheby’s. These days, he hikes and this past winter picked up his 44th Crested Butte Mountain Resort season ski pass. He’s done a dozen Chainless races, and this year he did the festive local event with his two kids, Paris and Hayley.
“I have good close friends to pal around with,” along with his golden retriever Stella, “and that’s good stuff,” he smiles and says. “Our CB lives have been a wonder and all we’ve ever hoped for – fulfilling, challenging, rewarding and the community we’re so fortunate to be part of. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have served the community in different ways through the years. There’s still the core here, there are still a lot of us who came here for the life that was and is still here. It’s my life’s home here.”