February 28, 2011

Matthew DuBois, the main pastry chef and co-owner works with Noah Weston, a pastry chef, on special chocolates. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Ever since the Bankery on Water Street, Skowhegan, opened two years ago, a steady stream of customers files in to buy their favorite baked goods. Taking a risk and opening during the recession has paid off.

“Key to our success has been the great community,” said Michael Hunt, co-owner. “People have helped us all along the way; they’ve been amazing.”

The owners go out of their way to make sure customers get exactly what they are wishing for. They make cakes, pies, and baked goods to order. They bake different types of bread daily, have specials according to the season, and use local ingredients whenever possible. The bottom line is their business is successful because they care deeply about their products and customers.

The renovated, historic bank, along with its vaults, was so packed at times there was barely elbowroom. The owners expanded their workforce to ten, to meet the demand of the community — and beyond. One weekend they made 12 wedding cakes.

“We do weddings, all across the state,” said Matthew DuBois, the main pastry chef and co-owner.

But behind the counter, chefs increasingly had limited space to work. With the expansion, part of the bakery was transferred into the florist shop. Now, when a customer walks into the Skowhegan Fleuriste, they can see wedding cakes being decorated, along with flowers and tuxedos on display.

“We always wanted to expand. Last year alone our business doubled,” explained Hunt. “So, when our neighbors Larry Charrier and Duane Burbank expressed their desire to retire, we took the opportunity to buy Skowhegan Fleuriste from them.”

The flowers-and-tuxedo business complements the Bankery’s business.

“We’re trying to make the wedding and special occasions experiences run smoothly for customers,” said Hunt. “It’s easy to come, in rent a tux, choose flower arrangements, and a special cake for the special occasion.”

For Valentine’s Day it was equally simple for a customer to buy some handmade chocolates or other baked goods and complement their sweet confectionary purchase with flowers.

That’s the kind of synergy the Bankery’s owners are looking to grow.

“It’s a natural fit,” said DuBois. “Why go three different places, when you can be assured to get a cake, flowers, and a tux that all complement each other?”

The duo have also cut the prices of flower arrangements, but not the quality.

Bankery has steadily expanded its business to include homemade soups, quiche, sandwiches, lasagna, meat pies, pastries, and wedding cakes. The confectioneries, breads, and specialties are all crafted with expertise, secret recipes, and loving care.

The old bank building on Water Street was built in 1864. The owners have kept the vault, cash register, safety deposit boxes, and have hung photographs of the bank’s heyday and have other nostalgic memorabilia on display.

With the expansion, the team broke out of the bank through a four-foot brick wall. The renovation included a redesign of the florist, opening up room for customers to consider their orders in comfort at tables.

“The added space really is great,” said Darcy Crocker, a florist who has been kept on. “It’s more inspiring to create new arrangements.”

The quality oak counter appears as if it were part of the original building, with rounded corners and handcrafted finishings. The alcove connecting the two aspects of the shop makes the transition from the bakery to the florist look as if it were always meant to be.

“I’m able to bring my own ideas to them, and they allow me the freedom to try some of them out. It’s a wonderful place to work,” said Noah Weston, a pastry chef who previously worked at Lakewood in Madison. “They are super bosses.”

The two business partners live upstairs and work more than full time to make sure their business continues to succeed. The business is also a family affair. Both their mothers help out, dividing the week up between the two of them. And Matt’s father, Ronald, along with his brother renovated the building.

“It’s great working here; they are like family,” said Caleb Mac, a high-school student who has been at the Bankery from the beginning. “It’s truly a Maine business.”

The two owners have a long history with bakeries. Hunt studied art at the University of Maine, made his way through high school and college working in bakeries. And DuBois attended the Connecticut Culinary Institute in Hartford. They both worked in a bakery in Bangor before opening the Bankery.