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Putting a new spin on an old space at a South St. Louis bakery

With the sudden closing of Dickmann's Boulevard Bakery on South Grand, South City loaf-lovers may suspect that their only remaining option is the St. Louis Bread Co. Not so. Enter the Black Bear Bakery, which opened its new retail storefront at the corner of Jefferson and Pestalozzi a couple of weeks ago, taking over a space that has housed one bakery or another for nearly a century (old-timers may remember former tenant Mayer's, or even Koch's, which opened in 1904). Black Bear has preserved the nostalgic flavor of the place; stepping into the shop, with its kitschy pink-and-gray deco interior and original-issue wooden fixtures, is like stepping back in time.

Longtime wholesalers of handmade organic breads -- maybe you've seen their "City of Little Bread" truck down at the Soulard Market -- Black Bear serves clients including Wild Oats, Global Foods and restaurants like Dominic's, Soulard Ale House and Blueberry Hill. For the retail store, they've expanded their repertoire to include a variety of sweets -- blueberry cornmeal muffins, honey-carrot cake with cream-cheese icing and pecans, lemon poppy-seed loaf, biscotti, and maple-pecan pie, just to name a few. My favorite is Polish babka, a sweet, puffy loaf studded with rum raisins.

The recently incorporated company functions as a true collective, with six or seven part-time workers who share the responsibilities, profits and an appreciation for the spiritual aspects of bread-baking. Largely an environmental-minded group, they use organic flours whenever possible. Each loaf, from the pumpernickel to the sourdough rye to the sorghum multigrain, is fashioned by hand. They make bagels the old-fashioned, finger-burning way, too, boiling them in a huge vat of water rather than steaming them.

"Mayer's, the last bakery that was here, used to sell roast turkeys for the holidays," says Black Bear's Bobby Sweet, "and we've been getting some calls about them." But Sweet, a vegetarian, thinks they'll be sticking to baked goods for now.

BLACK BEAR BAKERY, 2903 S. Jefferson, 771-2236. Retail hours: 8 a.m.- 3 p.m. Sat.

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