Mountain characters: Annette and Fino Docimo serve up pastries, charisma at Aspen bake shop
There’s a husband-wife duo cranking out some of the tastiest lunch and bakery items in Aspen, but a dose of sweetness isn’t all you get when you walk through the door at Annette’s Mountain Bake Shop.
In this hole-in-the-wall space on the middle of the Hyman Avenue pedestrian mall, Annette and Fino Docimo are making their local customers feel welcome, but not without a little East Coast attitude.
They know most customers by name and they know how to sell them on the latest, freshest treats coming out of their ovens. If you happen to walk in while they’re trying out a new recipe or just working on finishing something, you might be lucky enough to get a taste — just don’t ask what it is.
“Just try it, OK?” Fino said Wednesday, pushing a spoon toward my mouth. “I’m sick of hearing, ‘What’s this?’”
On doughnut Thursday, make sure you pick up your order, or else a Post-It note with your name on it could end up in the “bad customer” pile — also known as the s— list.
It’s all in good fun, though, keeping in theme with the bake shop’s overall atmosphere, which is casual and cool.
Ask Annette a question about her past and she’ll start talking (if she knows you well enough), but Fino is quick to chime in with his own 2 cents.
When the couple met 40 years ago while working together at a private club in Connecticut, Annette didn’t really know how to cook. She could bake, but cooking was another story. After they hit it off and eventually married, Annette remembers Fino telling her to do him a favor and go learn how to cook at his mother’s house. Fino remembers it differently — he says Annette came to him and said she wanted to learn how to cook, so he sent her to his mother’s house.
Either way, that’s what she did. Annette, who comes from a Polish family and grew up milking cows on a New England dairy farm, knew that Fino, who’s Italian, wouldn’t want to eat the only cooking that she knew up until they met: Polish dishes featuring mainly meat and potatoes. So, Fino’s mom taught her Italian classics, and she learned quickly.
“That’s why I think we’ve always stuck with the Italian style,” she said.
They make fresh sandwiches, such as their muffuletta specialty and a porchetta that’s served on ciabatta with a parsley pesto. (If you pronounce it wrong, Annette will correct you — nicely.)
Both smokers, Annette said it’s a bad habit they’d like to quit but that just hasn’t happened yet. Fino talks in a low, hoarse voice — it’s obvious he’s a smoker, but some mistake it for something else.
“That’s why I sound like this,” he quips. “Everyone goes, ‘You must be from New York.’ I say, ‘No, I smoke a lot of god damn cigarettes.’”
After 40 years together and many restaurant partnerships, they’ve finally found their paradise in their tiny shop on Hyman Avenue. Annette keeps a schedule of the popular bakery items she produces weekly so that her customers know when to find their favorites. You won’t catch Annette consuming an entire pastry or cookie, though. She’s rail-thin and tall, and while she tastes everything she bakes to make sure it’s right, she rarely indulges in desserts.
They went to Zurich in the offseason to visit their younger daughter — their older daughter lives in Aspen — and Annette said she managed to put a dent in some desserts there. They went to a teahouse and she was blown away by a dessert she tried there.
“And guess where she ended up?” Fino said. “In the kitchen.”
He said he heard Annette asking about the pastry creme and the ingredients in the dough.
“I was just tasting to see if we could duplicate it,” she said.
The Docimos came to Aspen in the early 1990s — they can’t recall if it was 1990, ’91 or ’92 — and never left. They had lived in Italy for a year and then to back on the East Coast, but they wanted a change and wanted to move west. Fino said their daughters wanted to ski, and after a restaurant space he was trying to buy in Squaw Valley didn’t work out, they chose Aspen. They had a wholesale bakery in Basalt, and then a restaurant in Snowmass that hit them hard when the economy crashed in 2008.
“We lost our shirts,” Annette said. “We bailed out of there.”
But it all worked out in the end. Rent was more reasonable in Aspen after the economy tanked and they found their hole-in-the-wall on Hyman Avenue. It was perfect. They operate it like a true mom-and-pop shop — because it is. Aspen used to have a lot more of them when they first moved to town, Annette remembers.
When you walk inside around the lunchtime rush, the charm of the place could make any customer forget there’s a Gucci or Prada store just a short walk away. At Annette’s, if you frequent the place enough, they know your name and make you feel right at home.
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It’s the first Monday of the 21/22 ski season in Aspen-Snowmass and some things have changed out on the mountains since opening day.