| Owner Amy Bouchard started making her signature whoopie pies in her home kitchen. Her company has grown to $1 million in annual sales. |
Now a $1 million-dollar, 70 percent-wholesale business, Isamax Snacks Bake Shop (named for Amy and husband David’s two children, Isabelle and Maxx) began in the Bouchard’s home kitchen in Gardiner, Maine about 10 years ago. With a hand mixer (“I burned out the motors of 10 of them a week,” she recalls) and small oven, she could turn out three of the 6-oz. cake and cream sandwiches at a time.
“I would make my deliveries every day to the mom and pop stores in the area with my daughter under one arm and a basket of whoopie pies hanging over the other,” Bouchard explains. “Customers in some of the stores began to figure out my delivery schedules and would already be waiting in a line when I arrived.”
That first year, Bouchard sold about $1,900 worth of whoopies; the following year, sales jumped to $24,000. But by that second year, the business had taken over the entire Bouchard home, with two convection ovens in their 8-ft. by 10-ft. den and cookie sheets piled everywhere.
In 1996, Isamax Snacks converted a 3,000-sq.-ft. former sporting goods store in nearby Richmond into a commercial bakery. By the end of that year, Bouchard sold $48,000 worth of her Wicked Whoopies.
“In New England, ‘wicked’ is a term commonly used to describe something extraordinarily good,” she says. But, with that growth came some not-so-sweet revelations.
Lacking prior business experience, Bouchard admits she had to learn some fundamental principles the hard way.
| Isamax Snacks produces 5,000 Wicked Whoppies per day. |
“I thought that as long as I was selling product, I was making money,” she says. “What I hadn’t taken into account was that now I had much more overhead and that buying my baking supplies at the grocery store like I had always done was eating away at any profits I had left.”
Learning how to buy ingredients and other supplies in bulk was among Bouchard’s immediate priorities. Another was adjusting her pricing to cover her newly increased overhead.
Despite those initial growing pains, Bouchard has managed to increase her company’s revenues by at least 20 percent every year. Today, Isamax produces about 5,000 whoopie pies per day at its central bakery. It also operates two successful whoopie-centric retail stores in Gardiner and Farmington, Maine, as well as a growing e-tail Web site.
What began as a side business has become the mainstay of the Bouchard family. David handles customer service, shipping and Internet site management. Maxx, now 19, is in charge of making batters and checking morning inventory. David’s mom, Lorraine, manages the Gardiner store. Thirteen-year-old Isabelle works behind the scenes making deliveries with her dad, helping to set up the stores at night and counting up sales. And Amy’s brother, Matt Emmons, does all of the batter depositing. The company also employs 16 people, seven of whom are full time.
Bouchard attributes a great deal of Isamax’s success to the original recipe she adapted from her grandmother. Cake flour is one secret to the lightness and moistness of her chocolate whoopie cakes.
“I tried at least 20 different types of flours, and cake flour yielded the best results,” she says.
To achieve the tender, moist texture, Bouchard removes the cakes from the oven while they still feel slightly underdone. They continue to bake to the desired degree of doneness, without drying out, while they sit on the sheet pan.
Unlike some manufacturers, Isamax uses no dairy products in its Wicked Whoopie filling. To make her cream extra fluffy, Bouchard whips the vegetable shortening, confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup and vanilla together for an extended period of time.
| Besides the classic whoopie pies, the bakery also sells chocolate covered whoopies, called Whoop-De-Doos (center). |
Clear rather than brown vanilla helps Bouchard to maintain the cream’s pristine white color that she feels is an integral part of her product’s presentation. After packaging, the whoopies have to be popped into the freezer for at least an hour to ensure they are firm enough to be boxed for transport to the stores, shipped to e-tail customers or picked up by distributors.
Although Bouchard says the company is shipping out whoopies just about as fast as they can make them, the snack cakes have a non-refrigerated shelf life of 10 days. To ensure that all products in the stores are at peak freshness, each individual package has a tiny color-coded dot to designate the day of the week it was made.
Isamax also has taken the whoopie way beyond the traditional chocolate cake and vanilla cream. The snacks cakes are available in more than 20 different flavor combinations, including blueberry cream, mocha and maple.
Some of the varieties pair different flavored creams, such as peanut butter or mint, or layers of raspberry filling and vanilla cream with the traditional chocolate or vanilla cake. Others, such as strawberry, gingerbread and chocolate chip, require separate cake batters.
At Isamax Snacks’ two retail stores, the classic 6-oz. Wicked Whoopies sell for $1.25 apiece or $6.50 for a half dozen. Because whoopies tend to be messy by nature, they are usually sold individually wrapped in either plastic or cellophane.
In the beginning, Bouchard used regular kitchen-variety plastic wrap, then switched to 10-in. by 10-in. cellophane sheets, which she sealed with a regular household iron.
“It looked professional, but took forever,” she says.
A foot-powered sealer wasn’t much better. Now, the whoopie pies and the 1,200 or so muffins the company produces every day are manually placed inside individual cellophane bags. The company also invested in four automatic twist tie machines to reduce injury-inducing repetitive movements.
To maximize the promotional punch of her packaging, Bouchard buys the cellophane bags in a variety of festive colors and patterns.
| Each whoopie pie is individually wrapped due the the inherent messiness of the filling. |
One of the most popular ways to buy the “pies” is by the dozen, packaged in a grab and go box.
“If we were located in a bigger city, we could probably get twice as much for the cakes, but we sell a ton of them here and the volume makes it possible for us to keep our prices down,” Bouchard observes. “We have almost no waste.”
Each week, Isamax sells about 400 dozen full-size (6-oz.) whoopies in its shops and about 20,000 wholesale. In addition to the full-size version, the company produces mini (2-oz.) whoopies and chocolate-covered Whoop-de-Doos (2.5-oz.).
Isamax also offers a giant, 5-lb. version of its whoopie pies that
started as a joke more than nine years ago, Bouchard says. Now, the company sells between 100 and 150 in its shops plus another 150 to 200 on-line each week. They have been shipped as far as Japan, Bouchard adds.
“People use them as birthday and anniversary cakes,” she says. “They’ve also become popular as corporate gifts. One company celebrated its anniversary by giving a big whoopie to each of its 265 employees.”
Also produced under the Wicked Whoopie banner are oatmeal cream pies, which feature the original white whoopie cream sandwiched between two giant oatmeal cookies.
The origin of the whoopie pies’ name is uncertain, but the snack cakes are particularly popular in both Maine and Pennsylvania, where they are a specialty of the Pennsylvania Dutch Amish culture. Some people believe that they were first made by either a frugal professional baker or a mother who didn’t want to waste the batter left over from a regular-size cake, so she baked some small ones and put them together with cream filling.
But wherever they came from, Wicked Whoopies are definitely going places. In November of 2003, Oprah Winfrey brought Isamax’s Wicked Whoopies into the national spotlight on her television show and in her magazine.
“That made our Gardiner store a bona fide tourist attraction,” Bouchard says. Al Roker also recently brought his Food Network crew to the Richmond bakery to shoot a segment of his “Roker On the Road” program.
Maine’s First Lady, Karen W. Baldacci, selected Bouchard’s Wicked Whoopies to be the delicacy du jour at one of her tea parties. And when Amy Bouchard did a whoopie pie-making demonstration on a local television program, “the station told me that their web site got more hits than when Donald Trump was the guest,” she says.
Whoopie-making is certainly paying off for Amy Bouchard.
A sampling of Isamax prices
Whoopie pies, 6 ozs. $1.25
half dozen $6.50
Mini whoopie pies, 2 ozs. $0.75
Whoop-De-Doos, 2.5 ozs. $0.85
Giant whoopie pie,
80 ozs. $12.00 to $15.00
Filled muffin, 5 ozs. $1.05
half dozen $5.50
Plain muffin, 4.5 ozs. $1.05
half dozen $5.50
Coffee cakes, 48 ozs. $6.00
Mini loaf coffee cakes, 3 ozs. $0.95
Ginger cookies, 1.5 ozs. (half dozen) $1.50
Oatmeal cream pie, 6 ozs. $1.10
Sheet cakes, 48 ozs. $8.00
Isamax… at a glance
Headquarters/Central bakery: Richmond, Maine
Web site: www.wickedwhoopies.com
Number of retail stores: one 800-sq.-ft. store in Gardiner, Maine and one 1,800-sq.-ft. store with small production kitchen in Farmington, Maine
Sales breakdown: 70% wholesale, 20% retail, 10% e-tail
Central bakery size: 3,000 sq. ft.
Annual sales: $1 million
Market territory: New England (nationwide e-tail through Web site)
Production methods: scratch, cake bases, frozen puff pastry
Product line: whoopie pies, muffins, cookies, cakes, breakfast pastries
Management: Amy Bouchard, owner/product development and operations manager; David Bouchard, owner/customer service and shipping
Major equipment: vertical mixers, batter depositor, rotary rack and convection ovens, refrigerator, freezer, refrigerated showcases
Plans: Continue to build wholesale business through distributors and e-tailing