What’s your biggest challenge right now? 

The biggest challenge is finding really good employees that want to work. Over the holidays, we were so desperate for people. We have such a really great, amazing group of people right now, and I do have to add that I think this is the best team I’ve ever had in the whole 25 years I’ve been doing this. That is an awesome feeling. But it’s just the challenge of really finding young people that are interested in really working with manufacturing, because really that’s what we are. We’re manufacturing whoopie pies. It’s all very fast-paced and it’s very difficult to find young people that want to work. I don’t know if it’s because they’re leaving the state or they have other interests. That’s a challenge.

And the other challenge is minimum wage. It just keeps going up. And it’s a challenge because minimum wage was never meant to be a living wage. It’s difficult when you hire a very young person that has no work experience at all, and they’re earning the same wage as somebody that has been working for many years that has obviously a lot of knowledge and experience. I don’t know of any business owners that don’t want to take care of their employees. That is my No. 1 priority, because I feel like you don’t even have a business unless you have good people. And you’ve got to take care of your good people. But it is very, very difficult when the state continuously gets involved and is continuously raising the minimum wage. I feel there should be a separate wage for students and maybe that’s falling into place. I’m not sure. It’s very difficult to keep up when everything keeps changing so quickly.

I hate to say it, but it’s actually — it’s the work ethic. I just don’t want anybody to be mad at me for saying that, but it’s very difficult. We have a shop in Boothbay Harbor and we had it there for three years and it’s been nothing but a nightmare. And it is the cutest shop that we have. I mean we love it, but it’s seasonal and that’s why it’s so difficult. It’s harder to run a seasonal business than it is to run an all-year-round business.

Our other shops in Freeport and Farmingdale do amazing because they are open all year round. So we know the spikes. We know when business gets a little bit slow. We know when business is like really booming. And with Boothbay Harbor, it was so difficult to find people that wanted to work. And then when we would find a good group of people, it turned out that they really just didn’t want to work. Nobody was there and really supervising them. So we’d have a manager, and I think it’s just because it’s seasonal they just — I don’t know if they just don’t take it seriously. As a business owner it was more of a nightmare. So we’re actually going to be closing that shop down. Because our other locations are doing so well, we’d rather have a business open all year round and deal with the flow time rather than scrambling trying to find good people to work for four or five months out of the year.

 

Who influenced you the most in business? 

That is a little bit of a hard question, because I had no business experience whatsoever. I worked at Bath Iron Works three years, and then I was a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to try to figure out a way to stay home with the kids, but I still had to earn money. So I always baked, and I loved baking, and the whoopie pies was the one thing that I always loved baking. My brother had said right out of the blue, “Well, why don’t you sell your whoopie pies?” And I’m like: Well that’s really weird because nobody’s doing it (at the time). It was over 25 years ago. I’m like, well, nobody sells whoopie pies. I mean you saw them in the mom-and-pop stores a little bit here and there, but I had nothing to lose.

I was completely clueless. I had no idea what I was doing, so I did everything kind of backward. I would call up stores and say, “Hey, I’m going to make whoopie pies.” I didn’t even have a license to do it yet. So they were like, “Oh, that’s nice. You know, when you’re all set up, give us a call.”

I would have to say probably the biggest influence I had came actually after I was making the whoopie pies. I don’t remember the lady’s name, but she owned a muffin bakery and it was called Woodbine Cottage (in Brownfield). And I was so impressed with her because she made muffins, and she had a really good distribution all throughout Maine and into New York. I was lucky enough to tour her bakery. I was so impressed, and I thought, “Oh wow, if only someday I could make as many whoopie pies as she is muffins.” I really, really wanted to also make muffins, but I never wanted to step on her toes. The day I found out she sold her business, I was like I’m all about making muffins now. So we also added a muffin line. 

I wanted so badly to get into Pine State, and I’d knock on their doors. I was just a little person baking out of the house, so they never would have anything to do with me.  

When I made the muffins, I was my own distributor, and I put them in the stores. (Pine State) called me and said, “Hey, we see that you’re making these muffins and whoopie pies. Can you come in for a meeting and blah, blah, blah.” They really loved them.

At the time Cumberland Farms and Sara Lee had a deal where I think for say $3, you buy a cup of coffee and a muffin. The Sara Lee bakery, wherever it was, whatever state, had a huge fire. Pine State called and said, “We’ve got a problem because the Sara Lee factory is on fire, and we need muffins. Can you make us muffins for Cumberland Farms?” And I’m like, “Oh my God, of course I could do that.” That gave me my first break with the muffins and whoopie pies getting through the door with Pine State. That would have been, gosh, I’d say probably 2004.

 

As an employer, what skills do you value most?

Showing that they care about the product and paying attention to detail, definitely. That’s No. 1. I feel that everybody has a special skill. Some people are better at say, flipping and filling whoopie pies, then other people are not as good at that. They’re way better at boxing and baking. We have people that make the batter, the filling and every single area has a different job to do. And there’s the freezer. The No. 1 thing that I look for is that they actually just care.

They have to obviously pay attention to detail. I think that would be the most important. If there was product that didn’t look good, that they actually would pull it off the line. And when our supplies come in, that they pay attention to ripped bags of flour and call it out where we have to send that back. Obviously things like showing up to work is like a big deal. I think just showing respect for each other, you know, no drama, just be respectful. And I always tell everybody that when you come to work, you come to work. And when you make a friend then at work it’s just a huge bonus. I love looking at watching all the employees interact with each other.

 

When did you know your business was established?

I knew back in 2003 when the Oprah (Winfrey) Show calls and I was like, I think that there’s something big happening here. I actually didn’t believe it. I was in the bakery working when the phone rang, and I was told to come to the phone. I didn’t go because I was so busy making the whoopie pies. And then the person covered the phone and said, “No, I don’t think you understand. You have to come to the phone right now, it’s literally the Oprah show.” I thought it was the magazine soliciting, and I thought that was really weird.

When I got on the phone, I had to pretend I was so cool, like this happens all the time. They said they were considering our whoopie pies to be on the show for a great gift or a humongous show when she gives away everything at Christmas. I wanted to just scream and jump up and down and go crazy, but then I was like I have to act so cool. And I said, OK, yep. Not a problem.

So the thing is, I had never, ever in my life shipped a whoopie pie. I didn’t know anything about mail order. I didn’t even have a website. I knew right then and there I had something.

I had just opened up my very first shop in downtown Gardiner, just a tiny little shop on the corner of the street. I already had my wholesale bakery, so I thought, you know what, other people have doughnut shops and cupcake shops, why can’t I have a whoopie pie shop? And I had to pretend that I was opening a vegetable stand, which sounds really weird, but I had to downplay everything in my head so I didn’t get overwhelmed. When I opened up the shop, it just exploded.

People were coming all the way from Canada and Portland just to buy whoopie pies in Gardiner, and I couldn’t believe it. It was right after I opened that shop that the Oprah Show had called. From my understanding, it was the creative director of the magazine, Adam Glassman, who was vacationing in Maine. He had stopped at the shop and just fell in love with the whoopie pies. That led to lots of other things. I think that told me that I’ve really got something.

 

Where will your business be in five years?

We’ll be more automated. We are continuously always adding new equipment and trying to become more and more automated. In five years, I actually hope that we have a new facility that possibly would be in Gardiner. I’m not 100%, but I definitely want to still be in the state of Maine. I am hoping that we will have built our own building. We’re leasing our space in Gardiner in the old shoe mill. We have a ton of square footage, but we definitely need to have our own place. We have massive freezers where we are right now, and we added another truck freezer, which is a 40 feet. And we’ve got an 18-foot freezer that we’re renting. We’re in a position where we’re just renting and renting more freezers because we’re just so, so, so busy, especially during the holidays.


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