Before Taos Bakes co-founders Kyle Hawari, Brooks Thostenson and their buddy Drew Dickey were cookin’ up healthy snack bars, they were recent college grads with “corporate, sole crushing jobs”.
“Working for a big media agency and selling life insurance was clearly not what we wanted to do with our life,” Drew laughed.
What they really wanted to do was ski, rock climb and enjoy all the outdoor pursuits that brought them to northern New Mexico in the first place.
“We had fallen in love with the community and wanted to do something more fulfilling,” Drew said.
As athletes and adventurers, they consumed more than their share of “healthy” snack bars and the trio knew they could do better.
“Brands would bill themselves as healthy, but when you actually took an effort to look at the nutrition panel, they were full of a long list of unknown ingredients and clearly weren’t made of real, whole food,” Drew said.
They wanted to create more than just a high-quality snack bar, though. They became obsessed with creating a great tasting bar; one that you can see, smell and even feel.
“How can we take real, whole ingredients and create an experience?” Drew asked. “How can we elevate that experience and provide an enjoyable moment versus choking down a bar for pure sustenance?”
In 2010, Kyle and Brooks became obsessed with creating their first bar, which was a healthier version of a Thorsenson Family favorite, the Scotcheroo.
What started in the kitchen of their rented house in Taos eventually moved into a community kitchen reserved by the hour. Then in 2016, Taos Bakes put down roots in nearby Questa, a mining community with roughly 1,700 residents nestled between the Rio Grande and Carson National Forest.
When the mine, the lifeblood of the village, was permanently closed in 2014, it greatly impacted the small community. Taos Bakes partnered with a state funded grant program that allowed them to grow their business and create employment for the Questa community.
“The community lost a source of well paying jobs that had employed families three generations deep,” Drew said. “We were looking for a larger manufacturing space and the building the mine used for storing equipment was perfect for us.”
Taos Bakes is thrilled to now provide about 30 Questa residents long-term stable jobs. “We feel like Taos and all of New Mexico has given us so much in our personal experience,” Drew said. “It feels good to give back and be a part of the community in this way.”
Once the raw ingredients are procured, everything from mixing, baking, packaging and fulfillment takes place under the 100%-daytime-solar-powered facility.
“We spent a lot of time perfecting bake times, perfecting the mix of chewy and crunchy,” Drew said. “Our customers understand that Taos Bakes is led by taste, and they can trust when they buy our products, it’s gonna be something that’s a culinary experience.”
Rather than all of the ingredients becoming a “beat up, homogenized slew” as Drew called it, Taos Bakes uses a much gentler process, and refuses to use a “base formula” reliant on rice, soy or over-processed sugars.
“Each individual item is built from the ground up to be different from the next,” Drew said. “Each bar is meant to be its own unique experience, and that’s something you don't really see in the bar category.”
Taos Bakes currently offers eight gluten-free snack bars: Dark Chocolate Almond & Sea Salt (one of Drew’s faves), PB Chocolate & Butterscotch, Toasted Coconut & Vanilla Bean, Caramel Pecan & Cranberries, Pecan Praline & Maple Syrup, Pinon Coffee & Dark Chocolate, Gingersnap & Pecan and Almond Agave & Cinnamon.
Taos Bakes bars feature a variety of textures and unique flavor profiles. The hand-mixing of ingredients and baking for just long enough creates an artisanal, homemade-tasting snack.
“Since we all moved to Taos, we wanted to figure out how we can stay here,” Drew said. “I’m thankful we are able to live in northern New Mexico, sustain our lifestyle and be able to work with the community to provide a way to live in this place we all love. We’re so fortunate to be able to continue to live here and live the lifestyle that we do.”
In 2020, Taos Bakes added granola to their product line, which continues to perform phenomenally, Drew said. Taos Bakes didn’t want to mix up yet another line of granola with a 90% “base” sprinkled with a few mix-ins (ie. the good stuff).
“We tweaked the ratio of ingredients meticulously,” Drew laughed.
Also added to the Taos Bakes product line are CosmoNuts. With flavors like Cilantro Lime Pistachios and Sweet Chili Cashews, Taos Bakes jumped on the opportunity to play with savory spices.
“Food brings us together and is one of the most universal human interactions,” Drew said. “When we talk about manufacturing, we talk about units. When we talk about sales, we’re talking about dollars. But when we talk about what we’re providing, we look at it as moments of joy.”