Forget Taos Mountain Energy Bars. The Questa company has rebranded itself as Taos Bakes.
It’s a new name and a new chapter for two self-described ski bums who have built their two-guys-in-a-Taos-kitchen startup into a company with 62 employees, a 10,000-square-foot manufacturing plant and distribution to some 5,000 stores across the country.
All from Questa, population 1,700.
Founders Kyle Hawari and Brooks Thostenson rebranded the company Taos Bakes with new packaging, a new website, new everything, on June 1.
Carrying Taos Mountain Energy Bars and now Taos Bakes are Whole Foods, REI, Natural Grocers, Pharmaca, The Fresh Market gourmet chain in 22 states in the eastern third of the country, the Seattle food co-op chain PCC Community Markets — and Cid’s Food Market in Taos, store No. 1 for Hawari and Thostenson.
“We sell a lot of energy bars,” Cid’s owner Cid Backer said. “By far and away, Taos Bars is our bestseller. In my opinion, they have the best tasting bars.”
Cid’s Food Market is an organic, local, gourmet grocer open since 1986. Backer takes on many local products, and Backer was interested when Hawari and Thostenson first brought him their bars nine years ago.
“They had a lot of energy, and they had a very good product,” Backer said. “It worked out really well for us, and it worked out really well for them.”
Taos Bakes now produces about 20,000 to 30,000 organic, gluten-free, non-GMO bars that are baked rather than the predominantly used cold-extrusion method of producing energy bars, in which food materials are forced through a barrel and then a dye to form, in this case, energy bars.
“We’re the country’s first craft snack bar. You can see the individual ingredients,” CEO Hawari likes to say. “Yes, energy bars is a crowded space, but we can disrupt it.”
Taos Mountain Energy Bars started with a chocolate-butterscotch offering, and Taos Bakes now has six flavors. Hawari expects to release another one or two flavors this year and maybe four to six more flavors next year.
Taos Bakes plans to take the next step in July with the launch of its e-commerce operation: Order online and have Taos Bakes bars delivered to your home. Taos Bakes brought on 5 Logistics, a Denver warehouse and shipping company, to distribute its energy bars.
Hawari believes energy bar production will triple in the next two years with the new online component and whatever additional stores come on board. The company barely touched e-commerce in its first nine years.
E-commerce and rebranding the company played into Hawari and Thostenson taking Taos Bakes off the mountain and into mainstream America.
“This product appeals to a much more diverse lifestyle than just outdoors recreation,” Hawari said. “Taos Mountain Energy Bars felt like it was relegated to people who are outdoors on a bike or pair of skis. We finally had this moment of realization that the product was not best represented by the packaging or the name.”
Hawari said Taos Bakes is sold in all 50 states, but the Rocky Mountain region remains its strongest market. He wants to build the business across the country.
Taos Mountain Energy Bars did not start with national aspirations. It was two guys who had come to Taos to ski — Hawari does use the term “ski bums” — and do odd jobs here and there.
“Then in 2010 we wanted to start a business,” Hawari said. “We were tired of doing the ‘Taos Shuffle’ with two or three jobs to make ends meet. We heard of a community kitchen.”
They started at the Taos Food Center, a commercial kitchen offered by the Taos County Economic Development Corp., where space is rented by the hour. They could bake eight sheet pans at a time or a couple hundred bars per hour.
They then found a 2,000-square-foot space in Taos to produce their energy bars that they “thought was huge.”
It wasn’t huge for long.
“We put some feelers out for space,” Hawari said.
The village of Questa, reeling from the 2014 closure of its molybdenum mine that laid off 170, was building a business park with seed funding from a $1.2 million grant in 2015 through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. Taos Mountain Energy Bars was the first tenant in the first 10,000-square-foot structure.
“Taos Bakes has invested in the region, and in the process created jobs with fair wages and benefits,” Questa Mayor Mark Gallegos said in a news release. “The company is a huge asset to the region, and we’re proud to be a key partner in the success story of a made-in-New Mexico company.”
The company made the move in early 2017 with a Local Economic Development Act grant awarded in 2015 by the New Mexico Economic Development Department. The company brought 15 employees to Questa, added another 15 in its first year in the small town 25 miles north of Taos and has grown to 62 employees.
Hawari said he believes another 15 or 20 employees could be added in the next two or three years.