Husband and wife team Andre and Jessica Kempton launched Wild Leaven Bakery in 2012 as a key link in the local food chain. The family-owned and operated retail and wholesale business specializes in artisanal breads and baked goods that use local, organic ingredients.
"I got into the Taos Farmer's Market, and that was kind of a stepping stone into the business," said Kempton, who had worked as a baker's apprentice for five years in Santa Fe before setting up the company. They leased a commercial kitchen for the first few years, and in 2016, they launched their brick and mortar operation in a plaza storefront across from Kit Carson Park in the center of Taos.
"We focus on long fermentation," he said. "We incorporate a lot of whole-grain, sourdough breads - Eastern European style. We're known for those hearty, sprouted rye breads, spelt. Our breads are dense, yet airy and chewy at the same time."
They also make pastries - croissants, pain au chocolat, cinnamon swirl - and seasonal fruit Danishes. "We're using plums, pears, and local goat cheese," said Kempton. "Over the years, we've built a lot of relationships with local farmers."
In addition to their retail business, the two sell bread wholesale to businesses in Northern New Mexico. In Taos, they sell at Cid's Food Market, Sol Food Market and Café, Taos Food Co-op and Manzanita Market.
In Santa Fe, Wild Leaven Bakery products can be found at La Montañita Co-op Food Market, Whole Foods Market, Natural Grocers, Kaune's Neighborhood Market, Dolina Bakery & Café and Iconik Coffee Roasters.
Their breads are also sold in Albuquerque, Dixon, Los Alamos and Grants, as well as online.
"One of the main focuses of the business is working with the local farmers growing our grain, working with a local miller milling our flour," said Kempton. They work with Mountain Mama Milling in southern Colorado, along with others.
"We also use local eggs, local milk," said Kempton. "Our local farming producers are our business friends."
"We are both business owners," she said. "He's the head baker. I'm the director of communications." She runs the company's website, newsletter and social media accounts, posting regularly about the bakery's community and culture. She also interviews new workers, and manages the company's day-to-day finances.
"We enjoy the food. I mean, we literally eat the food cooked here commercially," said Kempton. "We like to share with our loved ones too. At home, we enjoy having local owrganic ingredients in our kitchen. It's a reflection of our core values," she said.
The retail store is open Wednesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The couple can also be found on Saturdays selling their food at the farmer's market in Taos Plaza, where they buy local ingredients to make their soups.
"They're really basic, simple soups, but with really good ingredients," said Kempton. "We let the ingredients speak for themselves." Their bakery serves a different soup each week, like potato curry, tomato basil or sweet corn chowder.
Now that fall has arrived, they'll be creating a lot of squash soups. They sell it by either the cup or bowl, with a slice of bread on the side. Most of their food is sold to go, but the shop does have a porch, and a patio, for customers to dine on-site.
Wild Leaven Bakery closed their retail shop for seven months in the spring of 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "We still did wholesale," said Kempton. "And during that time, we focused on setting up our wholesale production facility in Santa Fe. It actually gave us some time to work on that."
They said, right now, the wholesale side of their business is larger than the retail side. "We're looking at opening a retail space in Santa Fe soon. They're going to mostly do the bread production wholesale, and then we can have a store where we produce more pastry," said Kempton. "We do really like the retail aspect, because we get to serve the customer face-to-face."
"In the baking industry, we have the term 'the grain chain,' he said. "From the farmer, to the miller, to the baker, the brewer and then finally to the customer."
"Our overall vision is to be an integral part in food security for our region," said Kempton. "As we saw from the last year and a half since the pandemic, we can have a lot of problems with our food chain and our food system and food production. So as a local food producer, it's our goal to be part of the local food economy, and be a key link in the chain."
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