The Brothers Of 1900 Barker In Lawrence, Kansas

 In Feature, Food

A new summertime drink—an espresso and tonic—is ready to roll out at the bakery-café Reagan Petrehn co-owns in Lawrence, Kansas, which he begins to describe using terminology common in the world of mixology. Then Petrehn pauses, sounding amused at himself, and starts over, explaining that he’s just starting to experiment with cocktails.

The cold espresso drink uses a tonic made in-house with local blackberries and a cinnamon-y variety of basil. “The net result is tropical and slightly savory, a sparkly and super-refreshing non-alcoholic cocktail,” he concludes.

Petrehn is the director of operations and one half of the ownership duo behind 1900 Barker, a remarkably forward-thinking coffeehouse and bakery. He co-founded the business two years ago with his older brother Taylor, 25, who earned a semifinalist nomination for a James Beard Award in the Outstanding Baker category earlier this year.

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Both brothers already have a wealth of experience in their chosen fields, the elder in the fine-dining realm before turning to bread and pastries, and the younger in coffee brewing and education, a career that took him around the world. “It reaffirmed my love for learning people’s stories, taking care of them and getting to know them,” he says.

Petrehn says it was almost a given that someday they’d be pouring their knowledge, expertise and sweat equity into a small business of their own in the small Kansas town. “Both of our parents worked for themselves,” Petrehn explains. “That was how we grew up. In my family, we’ve always been caretakers—hosting people we knew and having people over.”

When his brother called to say there was a building available at 1900 Barker, Petrehn says they couldn’t turn it down. “It was a mental readjustment to go from making my own schedule and traveling all the time to buckling down and starting a restaurant, working 100-hour weeks. I had to reevaluate what my priorities were.”

Their formative experiences in an entrepreneurial family equipped the brothers with the tools and skills they knew they’d need. And then they broke the unwritten rules of entrepreneurship—first by going into business as siblings, next by hiring their friends. “It’s awesome,” Petrehn says. “It has gone way more smoothly than both of us expected.”

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These rebellious parallels to Petrehn’s coffee-making are unmistakable. With a deep understanding of typical brewing and presentation implemented by typical of “third-wave” coffeehouses, at 1900 Barker they can choose to do something different. “For every rule I’ve broken, I figured out why it was there first,” he says. “I also think that people are more inclined to listen to me because of my background in coffee.”

His brother’s processes, though less visible, are also unconventional. Their breads are naturally leavened using wild yeasts, a process which takes three days from start to finish. (That’s why there’s no fresh bread on Tuesdays, the first weekday the café is open.) They’re also extremely focused on the grains. For example, right now there’s a Danish rye loaf with a dozen or so whole grains. “It’s a really classic, dense, dark bread with so much flavor and aroma,” Petrehn says. “The texture is incredible.”

The brothers’ business acumen also matches their culinary talents: they’ve split the business so that each runs one side, with almost completely separate staffs. “It’s been that way ever since the start, and that has been our saving grace as far as working as business partners and getting along as brothers,” Petrehn says. “Having separate sides of the business helps motivation, too. There’s a slight amount of competition—we have to keep up with each other!”

For Petrehn, one of his biggest inspirations is his brother. “Taylor is one of the hardest-working people I know. When you work with someone who loves what they do so much, it’s easy to stay motivated.”

Day-to-day motivation also comes from customers and their space, the latter of which has been a labor of love. “We built the café with our hands, by ourselves, and we have so many people who come in as regulars,” says Petrehn. “There’s a fast-paced feedback loop to test things out and see how they’re received. That’s really cool. And having a physical space where people can come is special.”

But even the most fulfilling job has its moments. That’s when Petrehn plans a weekend trip to New York, or a springtime excursion to Paris. “When it’s wintertime in Kansas and I’ve been waking up at 4am, I take a break and drive as far away as I can and see something new. Working in a restaurant, it’s easy to get boxed in. Getting out of that space is huge for your perspective. It’s easy to forget to have gratitude.”

Where to go
1900 Barker
1900 Barker Ave., Lawrence KS
Tues.-Fri. 7am-5pm, Sat. 7am-2pm, closed Sun.-Mon.

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