READFIELD — The electric cupcake maker that Jessica Hunnewell received for Christmas turned out a product too dry and uniform for human tastes.

She looked for other ways to use it, though, and it became the final piece that fell into place to spur her to create her own line of baked treats for dogs.

Thanks to an infusion of capital from the Readfield Enterprise Fund earlier this year, Hunnewell now is working full time on Sweet Spot Dog Bakery, producing “pupcakes,” “woofie pies,” doughnuts and biscuits from her kitchen. She has a full schedule of farmer’s markets this summer, and her products are appearing in more local stores.

The business combines aspects of several of Hunnewell’s past pursuits, such as working as a nutritionist for Army officers, working in dog rescue and cooking for her own dogs. Later she received the cupcake maker and saw how trendy cupcakes were for humans.

She was also alarmed by recalls of pet food and a friend getting sick after handling dog food that was contaminated with salmonella. So she finally got started on a project she’d had in mind for a while.

“I think that market kind of opened up right when my head was ready for it,” said Hunnewell, 27.

She looked up basic recipes online, talked with veterinarians and read books on canine nutrition. Her golden retriever, Buddy, and her springer spaniel, Molly, served as taste-testers before she sent samples to a laboratory in New Jersey for nutritional analysis.

Hunnewell prides herself on using all-natural ingredients, many of which are produced locally, and no preservatives. Some of the common ingredients include pumpkin, coconut oil, carob and peanut butter. She uses beets and blueberries to tint frostings pink and purple.

“When we go and get a bunch of cupcakes, we want to know that they’re fresh and moist and smell good,” she said. “I wanted to give that same thing to people to give to their dogs.”

Hunnewell started working on Sweet Spot Dog Bakery last year, but her business has expanded rapidly since she received $5,000 from the Readfield Enterprise Fund in February.

The town established the fund last year with a $150,000 Community Development Block Grant from the federal government. It’s designed for low- and middle-income residents to start or expand businesses with grants and zero-interest loans.

Sweet Spot Dog Bakery is one of three projects to be funded so far. Hunnewell received $500 as a grant and the rest as a loan.

She said applying to the Readfield Enterprise Fund was less intimidating than seeking a commercial loan, and she felt more secure paying zero interest. The committee members who reviewed her application also provided helpful feedback and lots of connections to mentors and other Readfield businesses.

Hunnewell used the capital for nutritional analysis, buying ingredients in bulk and a stand mixer and high-capacity food processor that allow her to turn out product much more quickly.

“I think it went from a concept that I was building to a real business almost instantly,” she said. “Now I’m actually the owner of this and I can actually feel confident putting myself out there. I’m prepared for things when people call me for events. I know that I have the things I need, I have my equipment, I have my insurance, I have my testing done.”

Hunnewell said one of her favorite things about her job is that it allows her to work from home and thus spend more time with her fiancé and their 2 1/2-year-old daughter and 9-month-old son.

Hunnewell’s treats are now available in shops such as Marie’s Whole Foods in Readfield and at the farmer’s markets in Gardiner, Mount Vernon, Richmond and Readfield. She’s also trying to design more “manly” cupcakes for the Maine Man Expo in Bangor.

Cricket Blouin said she began stocking Sweet Spot treats at Marie’s Whole Foods several months ago, mainly the shelf-stable biscuits. Customers love them, she said.

“She uses all-natural products, and they’re beautiful,” Blouin said.

Blouin is one of the other recipients of an award from the Readfield Enterprise Fund. She used the money for advertising, reusable shopping bags and an induction cooktop that she uses to make soups.

The other project approved so far included rebuilding a parking lot and improving drainage at an office building.

Town Manager Stefan Pakulski said Sweet Spot Dog Bakery is exactly the kind of business the Readfield Enterprise Fund was intended to support. Small and home-based businesses such as Hunnewell’s often have difficulty getting commercial loans, he said.

“This is what she came up with as a way to help her family succeed, and that’s what we were trying to do, to find people who were looking for business opportunities or growing ones that they had already started, here in the community rather than having to go somewhere else to find a job,” Pakulski said.

He said there have been fewer applicants than he expected. Some people who have approached the committee had good ideas but made too much money to qualify under the federal guidelines. Others were looking for more capital than the maximum $10,000 award.

The biggest challenge, though, is that many people worry they won’t be able to pay back the loan even at zero interest, Pakulski said. For that reason, the committee recently created a $2,500 “great idea grant” that doesn’t have to be paid back.

Pakulski said the committee has recently lost a couple of members and needs more Readfield residents to step up, both as committee members and as potential mentors for new entrepreneurs.

As for Hunnewell’s treats, Pakulski can vouch for both their aesthetic appeal to humans and the enjoyment they can bring to dogs. Several months ago, Hunnewell dropped off samples at the Town Office, and some ended up on Pakulski’s desk.

“I thought, ‘Look at these wonderful little chocolate cupcakes. These look yummy,'” he said. “I almost got it in my mouth, and then I noticed the little dog bone on top. I took them home, and the dogs just ate them up.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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