Many of us have a favorite family recipe that we’re quite proud of but not many of us have tried to share them with the world. Amy Bouchard, creator and owner of Wicked Whoopies, however, was not like most and today she’s proved that risk is a recipe for reward, as her famous whoopie pies are the official state treat of Maine.
“I had been making them ever since I was a kid, a teenager really. It was something that my grandmother used to make and it’s a real New England treat, so when I made them, my friends and family would get excited,” Bouchard recalled. “I always thought of them as a little gift because when you made the whoopie pie, you then take it and wrap it in wax paper, so it was a nice grab-and-go snack, but it was like an extra special treat.”
A treat so special, that it quickly became dubbed “wicked”, proving Bostonians are not the only ones who use this popular phrase to describe something awesome.
“When I was older, in my 20’s, I was a stay-at-home mom and I was trying to figure out a way that I could stay home with the kids and earn an income and my brother kept telling me, ‘You know you really ought to sell your whoopie pies,’ and I thought, well that’s crazy because nobody’s selling whoopie pies!” Bouchard recalled. “This was a little over 21 years ago and I thought, well you know, I have no business experience whatsoever but I knew that I made a good whoopie pie and I loved it and I knew they were making people happy, so I thought, well I have nothing to lose.”
With small children at home and grand ideas brewing in her head, she was determined to make the best whoopie pie there was, something that would stand out in a crowded field of baked goods.
“Originally the whoopie pie had a bad reputation of the cake being dry and the filling being very tasty and heavy and really sugary,” Bouchard explained. “So what I did, when I started making my whoopie pies, I wanted it to be the complete opposite of that and made the cake very moist by experimenting with different ingredients – many different blends of flour and I finally came up with the blend that I was happiest with, which was a cake flour. So I made the cake really moist and then the filling much lighter and fluffier, so it was kind of the opposite of what people were used to having as far as the whoopie pie goes.”
Taking it a step further, Bouchard realized that to attract more attention and taste to her creations, she needed more than just your standard chocolate and vanilla whoopie pie.
“I knew not everybody loved chocolate so I started coming up with different flavors that 21 years ago just didn’t exist in the whoopie pie, which would be like a lemon whoopie pie or raspberry whoopie pie, chocolate chip, orange … I just came up with all these different flavors in the hopes that I could try and make as many people happy as possible. That kind of separated me from the other whoopies … It just created a buzz,” Bouchard said.
“I did think it was crazy at first, but right away I thought about it and I was like, well I absolutely love baking and I love making the whoopie pie … but at the same time, I had absolutely zero business experience and I think that because I had no business experience it actually helped me in the way that I had no fear. I had no fear at failing. I just went out there and did what I knew felt right. And then I listened to people when they were offering to help me,” she added.
With her recipes down pat, flavors in bulk and a basket ready to be filled, Bouchard was ready to spread the word during a time when digital marketing wasn’t much of an option.
“I had a great big, thick telephone book and I opened it up to the yellow pages,” laughed Bouchard, who in this way found a market that appealed to her, called the owner and made an appointment to drop off samples.
After dropping off a dozen or so samples at a local store, Bouchard drove approximately 20 minutes back home and by the time she walked in the door, heard the phone ringing. The shopkeeper was calling to say he needed more: her whoopie pies had sold out!
“That was my very first exciting feeling of, ‘Oh my god, I think this is going to work’,” recalled Bouchard, who on the way back to the store, started paying attention to all the other markets on her route. “I just started dropping off my whoopie pies to all the stores with a little note and then I would go in later, when they weren’t busy … to see if they were interested. Nine out of ten times I would be able to pick up a store. It was all done out of a basket. I would make them, put them in a basket and just go with it.”
For two years Bouchard would bake out of her house and deliver by basket.
“I would get up in the morning when my kids were sleeping and work around their schedules and got one store and another store and that led to another store and it just got to the point where I either had to stop doing it or I had to move out of the house because it was taking over and it was just going crazy,” Bouchard recalled. “In fact, some people told me that I was crazy and I should stop because it was just exploding but I thought, there’s no way I could ever stop doing this because I’m making too many people happy and it’s making me happy. I’m glad I didn’t listen to that advice.”
Constantly burning the motors out of both hand and stand mixers, converting her den into a small commercial baking space and with her dining room set up as her shipping and packaging room, it was true that Bouchard’s whoopie pies were taking over her home. However, to Bouchard, this was never a bad problem. She ignored the concerns of friends and family who thought she might have taken on more than she could chew and kept on with her baking, having found a purpose and a career that she truly loved.
Once her house could no longer contain her and her business, Bouchard was able to find a commercial space that was once an old sporting good store.
“I stayed in that location for 10 years and outgrew that space many years before I could make the move because we just couldn’t afford it,” she recalled. “We wanted to move but didn’t dare take that plunge. Finally when we did take the plunge I went from 1,800 square feet to 18,000 square feet, which is amazing.
“Text book would always say to pay yourself first in business. I think that’s crazy. I’m not going to pay myself first; I gotta pay my people that are helping me grow my business. I did a lot of the things the opposite of what you’re probably taught in school. I just knew that in order to grow this business, I had to take care of everybody else first and then I would come later,” Bouchard declared. “If it didn’t feel right then I didn’t do it, and when it felt right, I just went for it.”
By 2003 she was ready to grow once again, but not in the size of her commercial space, but instead her horizons.
“I already had established a commercial bakery, so I already knew that my products were selling and I was wholesaling it, but there wasn’t a whoopie pie shop on the planet – nobody had a whoopie pie shop,” Bouchard said. “People had doughnut shops and cupcake shops and I thought, well, why can’t I have a whoopie pie shop? I found a little space in the local downtown area and I just started fixing it up and painting it and putting pastry cases in – but I had to tell myself, so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed, I was opening a vegetable stand, because I’m like, well anybody can have a vegetable stand, which is kind of a weird way of thinking but I had to downplay everything in my head.”
When she finally opened, she knew she was right to do so, having ignored naysayers yet again.
“People went nuts! I had people driving all the way from Canada and then the funny thing is that the same month I opened up my whoopie pie shop, the Oprah Show called.”
Yes, the Oprah.
It just so happened that during the time of Bouchard’s opening, the magazine director for Oprah’s magazine was vacationing in Maine, and as they say, history was made. Wicked Whoopies were featured on the Oprah Show and before Bouchard knew it, were no longer just in demand in Maine.
“I didn’t even have a website, we had to throw one together,” said Bouchard, who quickly found herself developing a whole new business strategy. “It really opened the door and forced us to do shipping and really do an amazing job. I created a package and made it like a gift. Everything was wrapped in tissue paper and tied up in a bow. And to this day, we do everything exactly the same way.”
Seemingly exploding overnight, Bouchard’s whoopie pies were making their way all across the nation, opening Wicked Whoopies up to a whole new market. With a little advertising in local magazines and a free presence on the social media site, Facebook, Wicked Whoopies grows mainly through the traditional word-of-mouth.
In 2004 Bouchard received a call from the Associated Press, as they were interested in writing a story about the whoopie pies that America apparently loved to snack on. It was the holiday season and the only thing Bouchard was focused on was getting her orders together and delivered in a timely fashion. She agreed to an interview, not even knowing what newspaper it was really for.
“The only thing I cared about was I just wanted Christmas to come so I could go to sleep,” she said with a laugh.
When Christmas came at last, Bouchard finally could take a breath, but something woke her that night and made her check her computer. She checked to see if her article was up and found that it indeed was up and running – in more than 180 different newspapers across the country.
“I was shaking, I was so excited and at the same time I was scared,” Bouchard recalled. “It was a whole other explosion.”
The next morning Bouchard received a phone call from “Good Morning America,” who wanted to feature her and her whoopie pies live on television the next day, causing another surge of national interest.
“I could not believe how it was just going crazy,” she said. “We weren’t out there advertising or doing anything, it was really one big explosion after another. We’re very lucky in that way.”
In the beginning, out of her home kitchen and into a quaint basket, Bouchard was making five-dozen whoopie pies each day. Today, on average, Wicked Whoopies produces more than 10,000. Instead of working out of a small and crowded kitchen, Bouchard enjoys 18,000 square feet of commercial space and two retail locations that no longer require basket deliveries.
“I’m so proud,” Bouchard gushed. “I love it and still eat whoopie pies all the time. And I love everybody else’s treats too. When I go out and about and eat somebody else’s brownies, baked goods, cookies, whoopie pies, whatever that sweet treat may be, I always tell myself, I can do that, I can taste test because it’s my job, it’s research.”
Best job ever.
For an in person taste of Bouchard’s Wicked Treats, find her and her Wicked Whoopies in the Maine Building along the Avenue of States at The Big E, the biggest fair in the Northeast, in West Springfield, Massachusetts, Sept. 18 – Oct. 4, 2015.