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Smart cookies: South Portland bakery business owners build on homemade foundations

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Smart cookies: South Portland bakery business owners build on homemade foundations

SOUTH PORTLAND — Residents and visitors in South Portland or Cape Elizabeth have no excuse for not finding a homemade cookie, freshly baked popover or quick cup of coffee.

Almost within walking distance of each other, Cambridge Coffee Bar & Bakehouse and JulChris Cookies in South Portland have joined the Cookie Jar in Cape Elizabeth and Scratch Baking in South Portland as locally owned businesses offering sweet treats and a cup of Joe.

Cape Elizabeth resident Vicki Cambridge opened Cambridge Coffee Bar & Bakehouse after losing her corporate job in the recession. She and her business manager, Stephan Thayler, met in an unemployed professionals group hosted by the state. Thayler grew up working in a family delicatessen and butcher shop, and has a background in banking and communications.

"With our combined knowledge of food and business, we have a strong business plan," Cambridge said.

Cambridge said she was introduced to food and cooking at a young age by spending time with her mother and grandmothers in the kitchen. She received a degree in clinical nutrition from the University of Maine and applied that degree at Maine Medical Center and Mercy Hospital. She moved on to work for Unum for 18 years before taking what she called a "domestic detour" to raise two children.

"During that eight years, I made cookies and delivered them to farm stands for sale," she said. "When I was laid off, my friends and family encouraged me to follow my passion and open a business doing what I love."

She decided to test the waters and the response has been encouraging, she said.

"The local neighborhood has been incredibly welcoming," Cambridge said. "People come in on foot, bicycle and with strollers. Even the business community has started to drop by."

The coffee bar at 740 Broadway is open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

In addition to Carrabassett Coffee, espresso drinks, Azul chocolates and homemade sea glass candy, customers can enjoy signature popovers with flavored butters, free Wi-Fi and a drive-through window for convenience. The business also offers corporate catering.

A little further east, JulChris cookies has popped up next to David's 388 restaurant at 382 Cottage Road.

It's a business that has outgrown the confines of a home kitchen.

Debbie Integlia is the owner and founder of the store, named after her two children, Julia and Christopher. She started her business in 2002 baking cookies and selling them wholesale to Coffee By Design, Arabica Coffee Company, Good Eats Boutique, Victory Cafe, Maine Medical Center and Mercy Hospital.

The Cape Elizabeth resident said she stayed home to raise her children for the past 15 years. With 23-year-old Julia in college, 18-year-old Christopher headed off to school in the fall and the business expanded into the dining room, Integlia said it was time to open a storefront.

"I love making the cookies, but I have missed the social piece," she said. "I want to be out in the public."

There are about 12 cookies in her rotation, Integlia said. Each is named after a friend, family member or occasion that spawned the cookie. My Husband's Favorite is chocolate chip, coconut, walnut and graham flour, while the Soccerhockeys, named after the field hockey and soccer events they were often brought to, are oatmeal and semi-sweet chocolate chip.

"Having this store happened at the perfect time, and it is the perfect place for me," Integlia said.

Her customers agree.

Justin Wiley, assistant baker at the Inn by the Sea, said he is a big fan of the homemade cookies. His first JulChris cookie experience was the Leslie Brown at Coffee By Design. The Leslie Brown is a chocolate milk chocolate chip cookie topped with Andes mints, inspired by one of Integlia's friends.

"Since the store opened, I've been here twice," Wiley said. "I can appreciate a really great baked good."

Integlia bakes the cookies fresh each day from 4 a.m. to 11 a.m. The store is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The business is closed on Sundays.

And whenever Integlia runs out of cookies.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net