Dylah Ray (BA ’10)
Dylah Ray is a baker and a gardener who found a way to meld her two passions into a blooming business. The Botanical Bakery of Denver is a floral-themed coffee shop and bakery that combines edible flowers with cookies and pastries, resulting in baked goods that are lovely to look at and delicious to eat.
Ray was an avid baker long before attending the University of Denver. Baking has been a creative outlet that follows her wherever she goes, from DU to Columbia University, where she earned a master’s in international education, to stints with the United Nations, Google and a presidential campaign.
Baking and gardening keep her grounded, and that’s where she turned when the pandemic hit in 2020. Ray found comfort in these familiar pastimes and began thinking of creative ways to fuse the two. She began experimenting with edible flowers and dreamed of opening a bakery. She also dreamed of returning to Colorado.
“I was living in California at the start of the pandemic,” Ray says. “I have a young toddler, and I decided that it was really important for me to be with my friends and loved ones.” She was especially looking forward to being closer to her best friend and college roommate, Morgan Huston (BA, MA ‘10).
Huston and her mother, Annie Huston, also a DU alumna (BA ’82), are owners of Birdsall & Co., a garden store with a location in Denver and one in Englewood, on South Broadway. They had wanted to open a bakery and coffee shop in the Englewood store, Ray says. “It just seemed like a really perfect fit. So very shortly after I moved back to Colorado, we started making plans.”
The Botanical Bakery of Denver opened in September 2022. Pastries, pies and cookies, along with edible floral pairings, decorate the display cases. Ray’s specialty is a lavender short bread cookie with an edible pansy flower pressed on top. There often are six or seven different colors of pansies to choose from. A box of cookies “is like bringing someone a bouquet of flowers, but it’s a flower plus a cookie,” she says.
These are not your average garden-variety pansies, however. The flowers are grown hydroponically, or in nutrient-enriched water, to avoid soil contamination.
“I did a lot of research into what flowers are edible. The ones that are [edible] have to be grown very, very carefully,” says Ray, who uses only licensed edible flower growers in Colorado and California.
Texture is also important. Some flowers have a bushy texture and are less desirable to eat. Ray likes pansies because they have a flat petal, so there isn’t much texture. She is careful to ensure that quality and aesthetics are never compromised.
“There are two components of a baked good for me—how it tastes and how it looks—and I don’t like sacrificing either one for the other,” she says. “I think using florals is a really excellent way to make it taste and look good.”
In addition to floral baked goods, the bakery sells botanical-inspired jewelry, candles, home goods, books and local honey. A seating area offers visitors a chance to linger over a hot cup of coffee or tea and a special treat.
“People are getting not just a cookie, but the opportunity to sit down with a flower that they chose. I think it kind of forces you to relax and take a deep breath and take a break if you’re having a busy day,” says Ray, whose clientele includes students studying for exams and busy moms with toddlers.
After a career in education and politics, Ray has realized her dream of opening a bakery. She encourages others who have similar dreams not to wait too long. If the time is right, it’s important to put a plan into place.
“Make a plan to be living the life you want to live and doing what you want to do, and get it done,” she adds. “That’s something I really admire about Colorado. I am constantly surrounded by and amazed by the resilient, strong women here—that’s really what led me to move back to this state.”