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Maine woman's whoopie pies made a whopping business

RICHMOND, Maine -- Just more than a decade ago, Amy Bouchard drew on her love for baking to create a business in her kitchen making whoopie pies. In those days, she would crank out three at a time.

Now, she churns out 5,000 to 7,000 of the sweet Wicked Whoopies each day, shipping them all over the country and beyond.

The business has outgrown its bakery in a converted fishing goods shop and will double in size when it moves to a new site in January.

''I can't believe how many whoopie pies we can pump out of this place. It's like a whoopie explosion," said Bouchard, her apron blotched with dark brown batter, during a break from the pre-Christmas production frenzy.

It's tight quarters for the dozen or so workers at Bouchard's Isamax Snacks, where the sweet aroma of baking cakes permeates the air. Big mixers whip up snowy filling, while a baker fills trays with batter and other employees hand-wrap the finished product in cellophane.

Workers wheel carts stacked with trays full of the saucer-shaped cakes to a giant oven that holds 48 trays. Like all whoopie pies, the finished product consists of a couple of chocolate cakes with a creamy filling. Devotees include Oprah Winfrey, Bouchard said.

Bouchard and her husband, David, both former shipyard workers, took a traditional New England treat and ran with it. Now they're at a full sprint, trying to keep pace with orders.

Sales have mushroomed from $1,900 a decade ago to $1 million this year. Amy Bouchard estimated the latter figure will double by next year. Her husband acknowledges that the popular palate pleaser is still something of a regional culinary curiosity.

''We're trying to change that," he said.

The success story of the Bouchards began after Amy left her job at Bath Iron Works so she could be home with her young children. She always loved to bake and wanted a way to make money at home, so her brother told her she ought to sell her whoopie pies.

The business was born and christened Isamax (IZE-uh-max), from a mixture of her two children's names, Isabella, now 13, and Maxx, 19.

Amy Bouchard was soon filling her kitchen oven with whoopie pie batter, delivering orders with her children in tow, and keeping her earnings in a jar. At one point as the stack of orders grew, she burned out three mixers in a week.

Gradually, she expanded the selection of flavors, going from traditional chocolate devil's food with vanilla cream filling to such cake flavors as strawberry, pumpkin, and oatmeal cookie, and fillings with peanut butter cream and sweet raspberry.

''I didn't invent the whoopie pie, but I like to take something and make it better, then make it great," she said.

New England-style whoopie pies are a cousin to the South's moon pies, cookie-like sandwiches with marshmallow filling and dipped in chocolate. Although Amy Bouchard has competitors in her region, she believes her business is the first with a bakery devoted solely to whoopie pies.

A big break came in 2003 when Wicked Whoopies were featured as a great gift on Oprah Winfrey's website and TV show.

National magazines and regional television programs also have shown interest in the product. ''The phone would not stop ringing," Bouchard said.

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