Makin' Whoopies

Small business cranks out wicked treats for c-stores, supermarkets, mail order

Published in CSP Daily News

RICHMOND, Maine -- Amy Bouchard drew on her love for baking to create a business in her kitchen making whoopie pies. Her company, Isamax Snacks, now churns out 5,000 to 7,000 Wicked Whoopies each day, shipping them nationwide, worldwide and distributing them to convenience stores and supermarkets, the Associated Press said.

The business has outgrown its bakery in a converted fishing goods shop and will double in size when it moves to a new site in January.

Devotees, Bouchard says, include Oprah Winfrey. Bouchard and her husband [image-nocss] David, both former shipyard workers, took a traditional New England treat and ran with it. Sales have mushroomed from $1,900 a decade ago to $1 million this year. Bouchard estimates the latter figure will double by next year. Her husband acknowledges that the popular palate pleaser is still something of a regional culinary curiosity. We're trying to change that, he said.

The company has gradually expanded the selection of flavors, going from traditional chocolate devil's food with vanilla cream filling to such cake flavors as strawberry, pumpkin and oatmeal cookie, and fillings with peanut butter cream and sweet raspberry. I didn't invent the whoopie pie, but I like to take something and make it better, then make it great, said Bouchard.

New England-style whoopie pies are a cousin to the South's moon pies, cookie-like sandwiches with marshmallow filling and dipped in chocolate. While Bouchard has competitors in her region, she believes her business is the first with a bakery devoted solely to whoopie pies.

A big break came in 2003 when Wicked Whoopies were featured as a great gift on Oprah's website and TV show. The phone would not stop ringing, said Bouchard. National magazines and regional TV also have shown interest in the product, which has a suggested retail price of $1.39.

The bulk of Isamax's buyers are small c-stores and coffee shops, although bigger buyers like the Hannaford Bros. Co. supermarket chain stock them. Major distributors deliver the product throughout New England and New York.

Hannaford has been selling them in three Maine supermarkets, but in January will add 25 more, including 12 in Vermont, Caren Epstein, spokesperson for the chain, told AP. Later, Hannaford is looking at stocking Isamax goodies in all 149 of its stores because it's a great product and a great opportunity to support a local business, said Epstein.

Mail orders also come in from all over the country as the whoopie word spreads. Bouchard said orders have been sent to Japan, among other countries.

A few hundred soldiers returning from Iraq were given whoopie pies during their first stop in the United States as part of the Operation Yellow Ribbon.

Now, instead of having to deliver product, trucks back up to Isamax' modest, cedar-shingled production building and fill up with cases of whoopies.

The business has two retail shops in the nearby communities of Gardiner, the small southern Maine city where the Bouchards live, and Farmingdale. In the latter shop, visitors from as far away as California, Arizona, Florida and Hawaii have signed the guest register.

Sherri Lawton of Parkville, Md., who learned about Wicked Whoopies on the Roker on the Road TV program, ordered a couple of cartons and a 5-pound Jumbo Wicked Whoopie cake for a holiday party Dec. 3 for 145 people. Everything I put out was gone, Lawton said. But she also admitted hoarding a few slices for herself for later. They really bring me to my knees, she said.

A woman from Massachusetts who emailed to Bouchards also decided not to share her whoopies with her coworkers, saying they weren't whoopie worthy.

Once Isamax moves to its new 7,500-sq.-ft. bakery a few miles down the road in Gardiner, a new 70-pan oven will replace the 48-pan appliance, which will be used as a backup. The 80-quart mixer will be replaced by one with a 140-quart capacity.

Isamax Snacks website is www.wickedwhoopies.com.