Gourmet Guru: Local baker has deep roots in FolsomBy: Rachel Zirin, Senior Reporter
The long-loved community hotspot, Karen’s Bakery and Café, has been the hub for not only Folsom’s cycling community, but active community and residents for more than 15 years.
Owner Karen Holmes always loved to bake and cook, and during a time when she was a stay-at-home mom, it started to get out of hand.
“I had offered a couple of friends who had corporate jobs a catered lunch,” she said. “I was bringing them lunches out of my house and that was fine until it kind of got out of control. It was more food out of the house and my family would open the fridge and they wouldn't be able to eat anything. I realized it needed to be adjusted.”
After working as a pastry chef for a number of years, Holmes decided to start her own business in 1999.
In 2000, she opened Karen’s in Orangevale. The store front was small, but Holmes’ main priority was catering. Holmes said the bakery only had 14 seats inside.
“I was going to make it a catering business, but we had some customers come in so we put out muffins and scones. A little later we got a coffee machine. It started getting busier, and I remember someone coming in and asking if we had lunch, so I said that we could make some lunch. Then an employee of mine asked about breakfast, so we started doing breakfast. That was kind of how it all exploded.”
Holmes said it was the cyclists who discovered her bakery and café first. She said they would ride by on the trail and they kept coming back.
Holmes said when the Folsom location became available she thought, “I can make this work. It’s a lot larger, but I can make it work.” And that’s exactly what she did.
Holmes went from 14 seats to 60 inside and 60 outside, and her business is bustling with customers all day, every day.
At Karen’s Bakery and Café, the menu is always changing, just like the seasons, but there a few items that will never be removed.
“The sunny tart is one of the most popular items on the menu, and we will never take it off,” she said. “If we did, people would not be happy. We have to carefully work our menu because there are things people will tolerate disappearing, but there are some that they flat-out won’t.”
Holmes said the salsa verde is another item that will never be removed because it is so popular.
“It’s a pork shoulder and butt that we roast and is served over black beans with an egg on top,” she said. “We have been doing that for a long time as well. It would be hazardous to my health to take it off the menu.”
Holmes said her favorite item on the menu at Karen’s is the almond polenta pound cake.
“It is really the wall flower of cakes. It is very versatile,” she said. “If I had to give up every single thing in this place, this pound cake would be the one I would keep.”
When Holmes was deciding what to name her bakery, she told the graphic artist making the logo that she wanted to call it Karen’s. She said she wanted it to be like everyone was going to her house to relax and enjoy some good food.
“I told the artist I wanted it to be my signature and he asked what it looked like,” she said. “I wrote out my name, and it was legible. He said it would work and that was it. I just want people to be comfortable like they would at my house.”
Holmes has many reasons why she is proud of her business and one of them is that she created a community hub.
“I love it,” she said. “When you walk through here there are people from all over the area. They see their neighbors and that makes me happy.”
Cyclists in the Folsom community have been a large part of Karen’s. Holmes said she has many great stories about her cyclists, but one was when a woman wrote a review for the business and said that she had never seen more inappropriate spandex in one restaurant in her life.
“If I stopped people from wearing spandex in my bakery, I might as well throw all the money out the window,” she laughed. “It is just not possible. Cyclists are the vine that made us, and I love the cyclists.”
At Karen’s there are three separate staff – bakery, café and catering.
“Each entity has its own staff and they rarely cross over, but they do help each other in some ways,” Holmes said. “In November 2015, we took over the space that was Thai Siam. We gutted it, and I put the bakers in their own space.”
Holmes said creating special cakes and catering is fun because when people have a special event, they go to Karen’s for the most unique cakes.
Holmes is not just involved in the community with her business, but she is also the president of the Folsom Historic District Association.
One thing that some may not know about Holmes is that she loves racing cars, and when she heard about the Soup Box Derby, she had to have it in the district.
“I love cars that race. It’s just a thing I do and I have fun. Obviously, we can’t have races in the Historic District, so soap box cars are the next best thing,” she said.
After talking with friends, she found herself in touch with the true and sanctioned All-American Soap Box Derby. She found a chapter in Silicon Valley, who was happy to support the Historic District and teach her how to bring it to Folsom.
“It will be a truly sanctioned event,” Holmes said. “The kids who win in Folsom, will qualify for Nationals in Akron, Ohio, which is the Soap Box Derby capital.”
Holmes said the Silicon Valley chapter said having the Derby in the Historic District would be the best venue they could imagine as they usually do them in fields.
“This whole sport involves families. It gives the kids ownership of what they are involved in, but it also involves families,” she said. “It’s a family-style event and it’s good fun.”
Guests can except to see the Soap Box Derby in Folsom in a few short months.
Holmes wanted to give a shout out to her team and recognize all of the hard work they do.
“Every single one of them puts in good energy and effort into what we do here,” she said. “While it says Karen’s on the door, it’s a lot more of a collective team and who we all are. We all do it together.”
Karen’s Bakery and Café is open from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is located on the corner at 705 Gold Lake Drive in Folsom.
For more information go to karensbakery.com or call 916-985-2665.