Did you know that the whoopie pie is the official state treat for Maine? I didn’t either until I spoke with owner and founder of the Whoopie Pie Cafe, James Gallagher, about his business and successes.
Since 2012, Whoopie Pie Cafe has been at the 621 Hammond St. storefront, catering to area customers and their appetites with signature whoopie pies (in over 50 flavors!), salads, pasta, and sandwiches.
Now, five years later, Whoopie Pie Cafe has partnered with Hannaford and the whoopie pies that Bangor residents have been enjoying can be found on the supermarket’s shelves.
For James, having his product in Hannaford stores is more evidence for him and his team that their hard work is paying off, especially since Whoopie Pie Cafe started out under a different name.
“I always knew I wanted to own a restaurant in some capacity,” James said. “I just didn’t realize it was going to be featuring whoopie pies.”
And at the very beginning, it didn’t. Originally, the restaurant at the Hammond Street location was called La Cena, Italian Bistro. However, when he and his team decided to add whoopie pies to the menu his customers loved them so much that James decided to change the focus of the business and Whoopie Pie Cafe was born.
Indeed, with the kind of flavors they offer, it isn’t hard to see why. In addition to the Plain Jane, what we may know as the classic chocolate and vanilla cream pie, Whoopie Pie Cafe also offers the Charming Carrot, a carrot-cake inspired pie with cream cheese filling, a Maine Blueberry Pancake, with Maine Blueberry cake and maple filling, and a Snickerdoodle pie, made with cinnamon cake and a cream cheese filling. “Our most popular is probably the Dark Seas,” Gallagher told the BDN. “”It’s a dark chocolate cake with caramel sea salt filling.”
It’s not surprising, then, that the Dark Seas is one of the four flavors currently being carried by Hannaford Supermarket. The other three, the Plain Jane, the Peanut Butter Pie – with chocolate cake and peanut butter frosting – and the Luscious Lemon – with vanilla cake and lemon cream filling – are all popular and delicious in their own right, and the sales at Hannaford are encouraging James to look to the future.
“People are loving it [the whoopie pies] because they are already at the grocery store… it reminds people that there are other flavors and they can stop by the cafe and get more,” James said. “In the next few months, we’re going to really focus on the local area and test the market. At the moment, we’re in [the Hannaford stores in] Old Town, Brewer, Union Street and Broadway.”
For James and his team, working with Hannaford has been a reality two years in the making. Hannaford approached James for a chance at collaborating, given that James had been recognized as SBA’s Young Maine Entrepreneur of the Year, and the Cafe had been experiencing a significant amount of press – two aspects that drew Hannaford’s attention.
Of course, by selling their product in Hannaford, James and his team had to create a whoopie pie package that was retail ready: nutritional facts, ingredients and all. “It was definitely interesting and fun to learn all the scientific things that go into a whoopie pie,” James said. “[But] the process is actually quite lengthy.”
Now, with retail experience, and with their whoopie pies selling on the shelves of local Hannaford stores, James knows that Whoopie Pie Cafe can sell their product in Hannaford stores outside of Maine.
“There’s a huge market for a nation-wide spread,” James said. “It’s a market that hasn’t been tapped into. We definitely want to open more cafes in the next few years, so that we can focus on the wholesaling part of the business in Maine and New England.”
And with Hannaford stores up and down the East Coast, James hopes to continue working with Hannaford Supermarkets to spread the love for whoopie pies that Mainers are already enjoying.
When asked about any advice he’d give to future business owners and entrepreneurs, James was quick to reply. “You have to be determined to reach the goal you have in mind – no one is going to hand it to you. You have to stay on people, follow up with conversations, and be determined to reach the end.”
“Don’t let someone else carry your dream to the finish line,” James said. “It will never reach where you want it to go in someone else’s hands.”
As a Class of 2015 Top Gun graduate, a young Maine entrepreneur of the year, and the owner of the Whoopie Pie Cafe, it’s easy to say that James and his business are safe in his and his team’s hands.