Taos Bakes granola

Taos Bakes added granola to its product line in June 2020. The energy bar company now also sells bites and nuts.

Milestones are piling up for Taos Bakes in the coronavirus era.

Whole Foods, which has carried Taos Bakes products since 2014, expanded distribution from the Rocky Mountain region to Arizona and Southern California.

In mid-May, football Hall of Famer Troy Aikman and sportscaster Erin Andrews will start promoting Taos Bakes as social media influencers.

The company has expanded its distribution to the Florida-based Publix supermarket chain, the Harmons chain in Utah and the Raley’s chain in Northern California and Nevada.

And in April, the New Mexico Angels announced that Taos Bakes landed $220,000 in angel investments.

In 2010, former “ski bums” Kyle Hawari and Brooks Thostenson launched an all-natural energy bar company in a Taos kitchen. They now produce bars, bites, nuts and granola in a 10,000-square-foot facility in Questa, about 25 miles north of Taos.

Two years ago, Hawari and Thostenson simplified the company’s original name — Taos Mountain Energy Bars — to Taos Bakes. At that time, they also launched online sales with six flavors of energy bars.

Taos Bakes has since increased to 11 flavors of bars and added two flavors of Taos Bakes Bites, introduced in 2019; four flavors of Trailblazer Granola, introduced in June; and four flavors of Cosmo Nuts, introduced in January.

Thostenson said the introduction of these new products was fast-tracked as the overall energy bar market dropped 30 percent in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. Energy bars still make up 80 percent of the company’s production with about 30,000 bars produced a day, but Thostenson expects the other products to overtake energy bars in the next couple of years.

“We still managed to grow,” he said. “The goal is to double our sales from last year. We said, ‘Let’s get out of just the snack bar world.’ ”

Drew Tulchin, the New Mexico Angels president since November, had kept an eye on Taos Bakes for years through past economic development work he had done with Questa. His goal is to accelerate angel investing in New Mexico startup companies.

Tulchin in January put out feelers to Taos Bakes. Tim Wegener, a Taos Bakes board member and the largest angel investor in the company, said Hawari and Thostenson were seeking $200,000 in equity investments and a $150,000 loan from The Loan Fund to expand existing product lines, increase sales and marketing, and enhance equipment to streamline operations.

“Basically, it’s growth money,” Thostenson said. “We can buy in higher volumes.”

And they can pay for better shelf space at stores, he added.

“They were immediately responsive,” Tulchin said.

And so was Tulchin’s band of about 50 investors. Twelve members of the New Mexico Angels cobbled together $220,000 to invest in Taos Bakes. Tulchin said it was the Angels’ largest group investment in at least five years, and the dollar amount is toward “the higher end” of Angels’ investments.

“We really respect the two founders for their grit and determination to follow through with their vision,” Tulchin said. “Determination, hard work, just going at it has built a strong business.”

The company’s largest customers are the King Soopers grocery chain in Colorado, the 10-store Central Market gourmet grocery chain in Texas, the QuikTrip convenience store chain and Whole Foods. Taos Bakes products are also found at Natural Grocers.

Throughout the 2010s, its products were distributed largely in smaller stores like Cid’s Food Market in Taos, hardware stores and the like. Thostenson said the coronavirus wiped out a large share of small-market business for the company, but supermarkets openly embraced it.

“We launched into the breakfast world,” he said. “Whole Foods immediately picked up the granola.”

The company bakes its products rather than using the industry-standard cold extrusion, “where ingredients are beaten to death then squeezed out of a tube into a lifeless lump,” according to Taos Bakes’ website.

“Honestly, we have a product people love,” Wegener said. “It’s healthy, tastes good and is something you want to eat. We use real food. There are no fillers.”

Taos Mountain Energy Bars was the first tenant in the Questa Business Park that the village of Questa created following the 2014 closure of its molybdenum mine that crippled the local economy. The company ended up in Questa through a $437,000 Local Economic Development Act grant from the New Mexico Economic Development Department.

Thostenson said Taos Bakes is committed to Questa.

“They are the reason we are here,” Thostenson said of the state Economic Development Department. “We want to triple the size of our facility. We have architectural drawings.”

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