Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we will offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also let you in on some hidden gems). Find our previous Staff Favorites here.
For years, every time I drove by the Colorado Cherry Company’s Lyons location on the way to or from Rocky Mountain National Park, a voice in my head would whisper, “I need to stop there sometime.” The signs out front promised “Famous Pies,” Black Bing Cherry Cider, jams and jellies.
But I was always in a hurry to get to the park, or to get home after a day of adventure there, so I drove by Colorado Cherry many times with the nagging feeling that I was missing out on something special. When I finally stopped and checked it out, I discovered just how sweet it is.
That day I came home with a cherry streusel pie that might have been the most delicious bakery item I’ve ever tasted. And once I discovered what I’d been missing, I made a vow to stop there every chance I get.
Even before that first exquisite bite of cherry streusel, I had a hunch Colorado Cherry’s confections were extraordinary because there always seemed to be lots of cars parked out front as I sped by.
The company has a long history dating back to 1929, according to owner Kristi Lehnert. That was when her husband’s Hungarian grandmother began making pies in southern Wisconsin that were so tasty, people would drive up from Illinois for them. They also made ciders.
Grandma Lehnert ‘s son, Monrico, and his wife moved to Colorado in 1960 and opened the first Colorado Cherry location in Big Thompson Canyon, west of Loveland on U.S. 34. Located on one of the primary routes to Rocky Mountain National Park, the store had no potable water because of its location in the canyon (it still doesn’t) and was only open during tourist season from May to September.
Kristi and her husband, Anthony Lehnert, bought the business 14 years ago and soon added a second location on U.S. 36, about a third of the way from Lyons to Rocky Mountain National Park. Now they also operate a cafe at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park and a small bakery in Windsor. And this year, their son, Elias, opened a Denver location on historic Tennyson Street.
The Lehnerts sold more than 28,000 pies in 2019 and are already at 25,000 so far this year, still using homemade recipes based on Grandma Lehnert’s. She died without writing them down, but the family figured out how to re-create them through trial-and-error taste-testing. Everything is made from scratch.
“Our crust is all butter,” Kristi Lehnert said, meaning they use no lard, “and it’s really high-quality butter. We contract with a farm in Michigan to get all of our cherries. We use high-quality products, and I think when you put it all together, you come out with a really fabulous simple, clean product.”
They also sell other fruit pies (the mixed berry is sublime); five “creamy” pies (including key lime and cherry cheesecake); meat pies; preserves; and juices and ciders. You can buy their cherry pie filling for your own homemade baking. And, yes, you can buy pie by the slice.
Every cherry pie has seven little hearts on the crust, a bow to the company’s roots in Loveland. It’s a labor-intensive detail: Nearly 97,000 hearts have been pressed so far this year for more than 13,800 cherry pies. Lehnert says it’s worth it.
“We make the dough, we roll it out, we press all the hearts,” Lehnert said. “We started in Loveland, and people loved the heart and its signature. We’re not getting rid of it.”
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