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Feel free to touch the toys at Bigglesnorts

Mean Bao, an Asian fusion bakery in Nob Hill, rotates certain menu items based on the day. These lemon tarts were part of “Terrific Tart Tuesday.” (greg sorber/journal)
Mean Bao, an Asian fusion bakery in Nob Hill, rotates certain menu items based on the day. These lemon tarts were part of “Terrific Tart Tuesday.” (greg sorber/journal)
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Jason Penn owns Bigglesnorts Toy Store with his wife, Elisa. The couple entered the toy business in 2009 with an online version of Bigglesnorts. (richard pipes/journal)

His store has been open just a few weeks, but Jason Penn has already heard the familiar parent-to-child refrain several times.

“Don’t touch that.”

Bigglesnorts stocks a wide variety of toys, including stuffed animals, Legos and games. (richard pipes/journal)

But Penn says the knee-jerk warning doesn’t apply at Bigglesnorts Toys, his new shop at 11200 Montgomery NE, Suite 22.

“I look at the kid and say, ‘It’s OK,’” says Penn, surrounded by the recognizable Kool-Aid-colored plush of Elmo dolls and boxes full of crystal-growing sets. “This is the kind of store where you get to touch (things).”

Penn and wife Elisa have stocked the 1,650-square-foot space with toys designed to engage children’s minds and imaginations. Think puzzles and games, Legos and even tiara-design kits. Penn keeps several toys open and on display so kids and adults alike can get the hands-on experience, whether it’s a fast-paced family card game or a build-it-yourself miniature roller coaster.

“These are toys that need to be seen, touched and played with to get those sales to happen,” Penn says.

Bigglesnorts deals with many independent manufacturers and aims to sell toys “with the magic still in them,” Penn says, heeding the mantra that the best toys are the ones that do the least. Don’t expect to find shelves brimming with beeping, battery-powered gadgets.

“We don’t sell the new ‘Transformers’ movie toy,” he says. “We sell toys that promote what we call open-ended play.”

Offerings are as simple as an old-fashioned wooden top or jump rope and as intricate as a 703-piece Lego kit with all the colorful bricks needed to fashion a tiny airport. There are also dolls and puppets and train sets.

Bigglesnorts Toy Store, located at 11200 Montgomery NE, Suite 22, specializes in toys that promote “open-ended play,” according to co-owner Jason Penn. (richard pipes/journal)

Penn came to toys from the jewelry business, where he had spent 15 years cutting stones as a professional lapidary. But the recession hit the industry hard and Penn started thinking about his next move. He and Elisa both love toys, and as the parents of two children, they thought the move made sense.

They entered the toy business in 2009 with an online version of Bigglesnorts that sold only Legos. But Penn says that site was geared more toward collectors, who were almost always adults. Eager to cater to kids, the couple soon began plotting a bricks-and-mortar store with a wider inventory.

The store, which opened late last month, kept the same name.

Penn says it pays homage to Elisa’s father, who always rattled off nonsensical expressions in lieu of cursing.

“We wanted a name that invoked a different era,” Penn says, “something your grandfather would say when he stubbed his toe.”

Bigglesnorts is open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday.

The phone number is 554-3452.

Mean Bao owner Sarah Lim shows off a selection of “bolo bao,” Taiwanese custard-filled sweet buns. (greg sorber/journal)

Mean Bao

Those in need of the sweet nourishment that only a fresh-baked pastry can provide now have a new option in Nob Hill.

Sarah and Andy Lim have opened Mean Bao, an Asian fusion bakery, in the former Ecco Gelato location at 3409 Central NE.

Sarah – who handles the baking end while Andy does the finance and technical work – says trips to visit Andy’s family in Taiwan served as her inspiration. (The name is a takeoff on the Mandarin expression for bread.)

“There’s a bakery on every corner, and there’s a lot of things I would say, ‘Oooh, this is so good, and I can’t find it in Albuquerque,’” says Sarah, a lifelong baker who formerly ran a small catering business. “We just thought it would be a cool idea to open our own bake shop – not a traditional Chinese or Taiwanese bakery, but a little bit of a fusion, so taking some of the things we really liked from that style and kind of combining it with our own style.”

The namesake baos come in sweet and savory flavors, with fillings that range from custard and fruit to roasted pork. While baos are often steamed, Mean Bao’s selection is all baked.

Regular menu items also include egg custard tarts and sweet milk rolls.

Those craving a more familiar dessert have choices, too, like chocolate-chip pecan cookies.

Lim rotates other items into the inventory, with theme days such as whoopie pies on Wednesdays and green-tea treats on Thursdays. The bakery also sells “cocktail cupcakes” every Friday night.

Rather than focus on the morning bakery rush, Lim says Mean Bao caters more to the lunch, dinner and neighborhood’s shoppers and strollers.

“We’re not open early in the morning. We’re not a commuter, grab-your-doughnut (place),” she says. “We’re more of a boutique bakery, and we’re open late on the weekends because there’s quite a lot of traffic in Nob Hill.”

Hours are 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday.

The phone number is 855-632-6226 or 908-9188.

Other news and notes:

♦ After less than a year in business, Gregorio’s Italian Kitchen has closed its doors. Matt DiGregory, who owned the restaurant with Roger Smith, says the eatery’s location was largely responsible. Tucked deep into a shopping center at 4200 Wyoming NE, customers had a hard time finding the spot, he says, especially given the amount of recent road construction in the area.

DiGregory says there’s some talk of reopening Gregorio’s elsewhere but no immediate plans.

“I think we had a great product, it was just a hard place to get back to,” says DiGregory, who also owns Range Café and Standard Diner. “Without a massive marketing budget, it was really hard to get something going.”

He says he and Smith – who owns the building – are currently considering ideas for future projects at the site. One involves a nonprofit restaurant that would benefit people with special needs.

♦ Franchisee Lucas Conner opened a second Firehouse Subs in Albuquerque last week. The new store, located at 4411 San Mateo NE, Suite E9, joins his existing shop near Academy and Wyoming, one that he says has been staying busy.

The new store is open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. The phone number is 888-8850.

Conner says a different ownership group will be expanding the Firehouse brand to the West Side this fall with a location near Cottonwood Mall.

If you have retail news to share, call me at 823-3864 or email me at jdyer@abqjournal.com.<br>

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