From blackbirds to fat cats: South Portland couple buys popular Portland bakery
PORTLAND — Longtime customers of Two Fat Cats are noticing some cosmetic changes at the India Street bakery.
The former salmon-colored walls are now a bright lime green, and the floor has a new non-stick coating and paint job.
But the biggest change wasn't in the decor, or even in the recipes for the bakery's famous pies and cupcakes.
Last month, a South Portland couple – Stacy Begin and her husband, Matthew Holbrook – bought the bakery, which was previously owned by the same folks behind Standard Baking Co. on Commercial Street.
Begin said she'd always dabbled in baking, but only dived in head-first over the past seven or eight years. In April 2011, she and Holbrook formed Blackbird Baking Co., baking pies, quick-breads and muffins in the kitchen of their Elm Street home in South Portland.
She continued to work part-time as program director at Davis Foundations, a nonprofit granting organization in Yarmouth, but found herself more and more devoted to the chemistry and convection of pies and cakes.
"The more I did it, the more I wanted to do it," she said in an interview Tuesday at Two Fat Cats.
Last year, Blackbird Baking hawked its baked goods wholesale, at area farmers markets and to customers who ordered via phone or email. Begin said that as business grew, she and Holbrook started considering their options: Open a bakery, buy an already established shop or shut down.
Not long after they put out feelers, Begin found a listing for Two Fat Cats. The couple had been hoping to stay in South Portland, but Begin said the Portland bakery was too good to pass up.
Two Fat Cats had been open for about seven years, she said. And while it is well known for cupcakes and whoopie pies – it was an answer last year on the "Jeopardy" TV show – it, like Blackbird, really specialized in pies.
"A lot of what I did was either the same as them or compliments what they did. It was a perfect match," Begin said.
Begin and Holbrook spent the next few months negotiating with the owners of Two Fat Cats before striking a deal. Two weeks ago, she left her job at Davis Foundations to run the bakery. Holbrook continues his job as director of information technology at Maine Employers Mutual Insurance Co. in Portland.
Begin wouldn't say how much the bakery ultimately sold for or what the books looked like, but she said the business is profitable and that she doesn't expect that to change.
Regular Two Fat Cats customers won't notice many changes because of the ownership swap. Begin said she has kept all the same employees – 10 bakers total – and will offer the same treats, plus more.
For all of March, Two Fat Cats is baking with maple syrup. That means maple scones, cinnamon rolls with maple frosting and a traditional Canadian pie, tart-au-sucre.
On St. Patrick's Day, they'll offer banoffee pie, Guinness cupcakes and Irish soda bread. The bakery will regularly make mini-pies for customers looking for a smaller confectionery fix, and more specials are being thought up every day, Begin said.
"Bakeries are such a creative place. There are always so many ideas bouncing around," she said. "My challenge is to direct that."
Begin said she's still getting a feel for Two Fat Cats, but that the transition is going smoothly. She said she spends one shift with each baker per week in an attempt to soak up as much institutional know-how as possible and that ultimately she'll take one baking shift herself each week.
She also has plans to increase Two Fat Cats' profile: Ideas are solidifying to offer baking classes in an upstairs kitchen – a converted apartment where employees bake and decorate cakes.
Begin is also hoping to sign up more wholesale customers. She said she is already working with Mornings in Paris cafe in Portland and Leavitt & Sons deli in Falmouth. And she wants to spread the bakery's reach across the Casco Bay Bridge, back to South Portland, where she might even get back into the farmers market this summer.
"We still see South Portland as part of our community here," Begin said.