Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

City award honors student-gathering spot for enticing design

DU students who meet and study at the Pajama Baking Co. on Old South Pearl Street may go there because the coffee’s good, the bread’s fresh and the homemade ice cream is sinful.

But to the city of Denver, the beckoning hand is the building itself, with a design that’s distinctive, welcoming and informal. In fact, the city finds the design so compelling to passersby and pedestrian life that earlier this month it named Pajama Baking winner of a Mayor’s Design Award in the category Buildings That Beckon.

“The building engages the street, allowing casual exchange of smiles and conversation between passersby and customers enjoying a cup of Joe,” the city writes on its Web site. The architecture reminds patrons “to slow down and enjoy the community.”

Double garage doors that open onto Pearl Street are one way the building is “inviting,” says co-owner Russ Tearney during a recent busy morning making lunches for kids at DU’s Ricks Center. This day it’s a spinach tortilla wrap with lettuce, cucumber, tomato and carrot, a fresh baked cookie and grapes. Tearney puts together 90 box lunches a week for the kids in addition to the catering he does for DU faculty and student groups.

“They come in here and say the place feels right, comfortable and warm,” says the basketball player-turned-culinary-maestro, who says he played against DU back in the 1980s when he was a guard for the University of Colorado.

These days he’s baking bread — a specialty — for the company, dreaming up unusual sandwiches and promoting the catering side. He knows the challenges of the food service business, having been chief operating officer for the 72-store Nick n’ Willie’s pizza chain before the company sold out in 2006.

He’s proud of the food, he says, but also proud of the Mayor’s award, which recognizes the neighborhood market and coffee shop concept that he and his four partners — Jeff and Kerry Hutcheson and Lauryn and Seth Meyer — intended for the 2,000 square-foot space when they opened in May on the corner of Iowa Avenue and South Pearl.

The name of the business, Kerry Hutcheson explains, relates to an unusual Evergreen wholesale baker whose practice was to wear pajamas when he delivered his baked goods. The owners liked the businessman’s spirit, so they named the business Pajama Baking.

A sign on the door welcomes people who show up in pajamas, but so far, the only patrons who do so are kids, she adds.

But that might change. Tearney says that owners and patrons had so much fun wearing costumes on Halloween that Pajama Baking is considering “pajama Fridays” for adults.

No rules have yet been determined.

To see the entire list of 2008 Mayor’s Design Award honorees, go to and search for design awards.

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