Words: Kelley Heider
Photos: Anthony Delao Adams
When the idea came up in staff meeting to profile a different team member each issue, I immediately suggested that the first article be about Mundi Ross, Colorado Collective's (affectionately dubbed COCO) originator, champion, and leader. Mundi is also the apron behind Salt & Butter Co., a cookie company in Colorado Springs that specializes in wildly inventive flavor combinations. You can try Mundi's cleverly delicious cookies at Stir Coffee Shop, which is where I met up with her to pick her brain about COCO while studying her in a different element—the kitchen.
I greet Mundi outside of Stir after hours, which is when she comes in to prepare dough for the Salt & Butter Co. cookies that are baked and sold at the coffee shop. Having the place to ourselves is rather nice—and necessary as we end up spreading the mixing bowl, mixer, and dozens of baking accoutrements across most surfaces in the immediate area. Salt & Butter Co. is a relatively new endeavor for Mundi and can be credited with inspiring her to focus on and celebrate this creative and wonderful community in which we live. I watch from a bar stool at the other side of the stainless steel counter as Mundi assembles the ingredients to make two different types of cookie dough: chocolate mint, and ginger carrot with walnuts and raisins. Right away, she begins work on the dough for the chocolate mint and doesn't skip a beat as I begin firing off questions.
Mundi is originally from Oklahoma, but was drawn to the mountains and the appeal of a life beyond the white picket fence and the idea that she had to hurry and start a family in her early twenties. Instead, she and her husband Casey took jobs traveling the world with huge live theater productions. Though she had a home base in Colorado Springs, you could fairly say the past eight years of Mundi's life have been very transient, or as she refers to it, “vagabond style.” Perhaps what most bothered Mundi about her lifestyle on the road was the utter rootlessness. “[There was] no solid community. I mean, we were a family, for sure, but it's just not the same,” Mundi explains. Eventually, a road-weary Mundi decided to return to Colorado Springs and work on establishing roots, which wasn't the easiest transition to make. She had difficulty finding an employer that knew what to make of her. “The problem with going from touring live to real life is that it doesn't translate well on a resume.” she says, pausing to measure and add the flour. “People cannot relate to it.”
After growing frustrated with her search for a conventional job, Mundi began to draw on her natural talents and consider entrepreneurship. “I love to cook, and I did get accepted to culinary school,” She says. But what Mundi most wanted to do was make cookies with crazy flavors, something that isn't exactly part of the culinary school curriculum. Thus, Salt & Butter was born in the summer of 2012. “I knew I wanted to do seasonal cookies, and I knew I wanted to use organic ingredients, but it wasn't until joining the farmers markets that I wanted to support them the way they support me,” she explains, “So I just started creating cookie flavors around being able to source locally.” When Mundi can't find local produce, say for her grapefruit avocado cookies, she looks for American-grown, organic grapefruits and avocados. She makes it clear that a consistent product and brand integrity are foremost in her mind. “I really want to make sure that I stand behind what I say,” Mundi asserts. “If my bacon is from Ranchers Food Direct, it's going to be from Ranchers Food Direct every time. I'm trying to make sure I cultivate and build relationships with farmers and farms, and that I really am sourcing as local as possible. It would be really easy to cheat the system, but I really believe in what I do and I want my customer to take a bite and know they are getting the best quality.” Mundi interrupts herself, as if on cue, struggling to crack an egg on the edge of the mixing bowl. The eggs she sources are fresh from a local farm, and they have thicker shells than what you would find at the grocery store.
Salt & Butter Co. is notorious for its continuously rotating menu of off-the-wall flavor combinations. “I treat my cookies as if they are my canvas, down to even the garnish,” Mundi says, offering her pumpkin curry cookie garnished with potato chips as an example. As one might guess, experimenting with new flavors and textures is her favorite part of the business. “I get so bored. I cannot make the same two flavors over and over, there's just no way,” she laughs. Knowing Mundi, I believe that wholeheartedly. What might surprise you, however, is where she finds her inspiration: cocktail menus, restaurants in foreign places, and a book called The Ingredient Bible. “Curry for me was something so foreign until I started traveling and getting out there and experiencing new foods. And now I love my coconut curry cookie. I could eat five.” My mouth starts to water. She then explains that she has plans to one day open a brick and mortar business—a milk and cookie bar—where her cookies can be even more elaborate and visually stunning. In addition to cookies, Mundi wants to offer a variety of flavored milks, and milk-inspired cocktail pairings.
“Working in the farmers markets, you begin to develop relationships with these different vendors. You learn things about them. You cultivate a community."
As she starts the mixer, I switch gears to ask Mundi about what it was that inspired the Colorado Collective. From what I know, it was a concept that resulted from the many connections she made while participating in fairs and farmers markets to promote Salt & Butter Co. “Working in the farmers markets, you begin to develop relationships with these different vendors. You learn things about them. You cultivate a community. It's a family—it's a family unit,” she explains. “It was the initial realization that I'm part of something great.” For Mundi, that long-overdue sense of greatness extended all the way to Denver, where she found herself on the fringes of the Makers Movement. She felt compelled to borrow from the spirit of what she had experienced and channel it into the community she felt had embraced her. Being a natural- born leader, Mundi decided to give back in a way that honors the hard work, dedication, and special skills within the community. “I want to create affordable, fun events for my generation to get plugged into different farms, people making great things—inspire our generation to stick around.” As she says this, I watch her use her finger to push into neat little piles the excess flour and sugar granules that had spilled onto the counter top before brushing them into the wastebasket.
“I want to create affordable, fun events for my generation to get plugged into different farms, people making great things—inspire our generation to stick around.”
Finding the right team to help her define the Colorado Collective project and get it started wasn't as difficult as one might imagine. Of course, if you know Mundi, you can certainly understand how she made it look easy as pie, or perhaps cookies would be a more appropriate metaphor in this case. “A lot of it happened really organically, meeting people just at the right time in the right place. Call it woman's intuition, I don't know. I meet someone, hear their story, and I know instantly that they fit,” she says. However, what she was looking for went beyond just a gut feeling. Mundi managed to assemble a talented group of writers and photographers that represent myriad subcultures within the region from food to music to woodworking.
“I hope it's a publication that will inspire.”
While her original intent was to create a visually stunning, web-based publication that celebrated local makers, the combined passions of everyone in the core group expanded the vision, pressing it outward to include artists, makers, writers, and doers. Colorado Collective was shaped into a regional lifestyle magazine, which will hopefully be available in print one day. “I hope it's a publication that will inspire,” says Mundi. “I want it to be interactive. I want to provide our community with recipes and how-to guides to whatever.” Mundi pauses to look for her nut grinder. It's one of those old fashioned versions that has a hand crank grinder that screws onto a mason jar. She finds it hiding up on a shelf, and upon seeing it I'm immediately nostalgic. My mother used to have one just like it.
When I ask Mundi about her hopes for Colorado Collective and its audience, her response is genuine and, predictably, community-oriented. “I think the biggest thing I want to make sure the community understands is that I really believe in and love this community,” she says. Mundi cites the new Ivywild School as inspiration, having cemented a center for a community that continues to build. “It's brilliant that they took a space that was sitting empty and revitalized it into a really fun space. It's what our community really needed—something hip.” Mundi hopes the Colorado Collective will be yet another force in drawing the community together and offer people a new perspective on what life is like in this region.“It's about damn time Colorado Springs gets the attention it deserves,” she says with conviction. And you know, I couldn't agree more.
2330 N Wahsatch Ave
Colorado Springs, CO 80907