"I sort of inadvertently became a vegan in my 20s," baker Thomas Kamholz tells SFR. "I'd been dabbling in it, thinking about it, and I had a friend staying with me up in Boulder, Colorado. They're vegetarian and ended up cooking dinner every night, so I realized that, after about a week had gone by and I hadn't eaten any meat, I felt so much better."
This was in the early aughts. Since then, Kamholz moved to Santa Fe, and in November he opened up his pickup and delivery-based Plantita Vegan Bakery (1314 Rufina Circle, Suite A3, 646-701-3616) with more astounding results than the even the vegan set might expect.
Now, as Kamholz ups his game, adding more customers, considering a possible expansion to pop-up events and personally delivering some of the best bagels and empanadas in town, it's a smart time to offer Santa Fe a piece of advice: Vegan or not, put this bakery on your radar.
But let's go back a bit, to Cleveland, Ohio, where a teenage Kamholz started working in restaurants as a busser and later, a cook. Eventually, he'd move to Colorado, where he worked in the kitchen of a small café attached to a bookstore and where he'd fall in love with baking.
"I just mostly prepped stuff and made soups, and we had this small deli menu and a full bakery," he says. "So at some point, someone quit, and they needed someone to make muffins. I wasn't really a home baker, but I thought to myself, 'I can make muffins!' And that's how I learned baking."
Kamholz returned home to Cleveland for a time, where he'd work at yet another bakery, this one vegan. He picked up most of the vegan cooking skills he uses to this day, but he also grew tired of working for others.
"I realized I loved working with food, but working for myself…how could I do that?" he says.
By then, he'd already planned to move to Santa Fe with his partner. While living in Boulder, Kamholz had traveled down regularly to perform as DJ Attentat at various events promoted by local cohort Team Everything. So, after kicking around ideas like a bicycle-propelled vegan food cart, a homemade tempeh business (think of tempeh like a fermented tofu, people who've never had it) and a possible wholesale baked goods business, Kamholz ultimately chose to stay small at first, developing recipes with almond milk and cashew yogurt, baking treats to order and refining his menu. Plantita Vegan Bakery has since quietly grown into something truly special.
You'll find bagels, empanadas, handpies, galettes, muffins and more on the menu, and not one of them is made with eggs or milk—y'know, in case you didn't know what vegan means. Kamholz also offers ready-to-bake pizza and cookie doughs, full-sized pies and other seasonal or holiday items like Irish soda bread, and he tells SFR he might broaden offerings even further down the road. Most items are available for pickup or delivery (an extra $5) within three days of placing an order; often, Kamholz says, he can be quicker, though you should certainly not pressure him to rush his craft. He's closed on Sundays and Mondays.
I sampled Kamholz's green chile bagels, pot pie empanadas and chocolate chip cookies, and all three are beyond satisfying and delicious. First things first—no, these aren't New York bagels, people from New York who always have something to say about bagels. They're still tasty and enticingly chewy with just enough of a spicy kick from the chile to have the right New Mexico flair. Eaten in tandem with the savory pot pie empanadas, these doughy little bastards are a straight-up revelation.
Kamholz somehow found a way to make his pot pie empanadas—made with peas, onion, carrots, potato and a proprietary vegan gravy—taste enough like the pot pie I know from childhood without a trace of meat. It's an amazing feat of baking, but also a good little piece of information for people who struggle with the ethics or health concerns of eating meat and can't seem to break the spell.
Kamholz's chocolate chip cookie is a brilliant dessert, as well, and straddles that soft/crispy line all good chocolate chip cookies should find. He says it's about ingredients like coconut sugar, which bakes up a nice crunch on the outside while leaving the inside soft. Do they taste exactly like a dairy-based chocolate chip cookie? No. They're better. They definitely have a different flavor profile than most other cookies, if that's a concern.
Nevertheless, as folks spurn meat more and more and terms like "plant-based" get thrown around, a slightly different taste from a baker with health and ethics on the mind is a real treat. Just know Plantita's offerings aren't gluten-free—Kamholz isn't sure where the assumption that all vegan food is gluten-free came from, but he wants to be sure folks know. Besides, there's Revolution Bakery for gluten-free treats.
"The one thing I know I can do that has an impact is to be vegan," Kamholz says. "The ethical treatment of animals, the environmental implications…it feels like a good option for anyone who wants to have an impact."