14 Oct New Career for a Couple, Fresh Start for the Whoopie Pie
The Wall Street Journal
REPRINTED FROM WALL STREET JOURNAL REPORTS
Oct. 12, 2014 5:05 p.m. ET
(Click here for WSJ Online Article)
Julie Ganong and Alan Mons
Ages: Both 57
Home: Newburyport, Mass.
First/primary careers: Marketing executive and financial analyst
Current path: Owners of a baking company and cafe
Why this path: “People are interested in rediscovering local, regional foods, and we seized a chance to reinvent the New England whoopie pie.”
The cupcake craze may be fading, but whoopie pies are on the rise. That’s what Julie Ganong and Alan Mons believe, and the wife and husband are banking their future on the confection.
Ms. Ganong and Mr. Mons opened Chococoa Baking Co. & Café in 2009—the year both were laid off from their corporate jobs in the finance sector. The company bakes a gourmet version of the whoopie pie, a traditional hand-held treat made of two domed pieces of cake sandwiching a layer of frosting. Whoopie pies have long been popular in New England and are the official state treat of Maine, where Ms. Ganong was raised.
“I loved whoopie pies as a kid, but I could see they needed a makeover,” Ms. Ganong says. As such, the “high-sugar, artificially flavored pies of my childhood,” she says, have given way to “all-natural, artisan products.”
Ms. Ganong never envisioned baking for a living, but when she lost her job as senior vice president of marketing at a local bank, she had trouble finding work during the recession. Mr. Mons, however, had always dreamed of running a food business—and when he also lost his job, the couple decided it was now or never to become “foodie entrepreneurs.”
In May 2009, they used their severance pay to open Chococoa in their hometown of Newburyport. At first, with Ms. Ganong running the shop and her husband doing the baking, the business turned out 500 whoopie pies a week.
“I worried if enough customers would show up and whether we could make a living baking,” Mr. Mons recalls. “But I also knew I didn’t want five or more years to elapse and look back with regret that we didn’t take a chance.”
Today, after a move to a larger facility and the launch of an e-commerce site, Chococoa sells about 8,000 whoopie pies a week and is turning a solid profit. The company now has 10 employees and a network of distribution partnerships.
Mr. Mons says careful planning, combined with his wife’s marketing experience, helped them succeed. He spent months baking different versions of whoopie pies, taste-testing his creations among friends to get the recipe just right. He also took classes in how to run a food business.
The couple still routinely work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. But Ms. Ganong says it’s gratifying to be “part of the local business community—sourcing our eggs from a local farmer, hiring teens for their first jobs and working with other entrepreneurs.”
Both spouses say it’s sometimes scary to realize they no longer have 401(k) plans, paid vacation time or regular paychecks. (Ms. Ganong says she collects a “small salary nowhere near the six digits I made before.”) But neither has any regrets. “We reinvest most of our profits into the business, so there are no trips to Europe or kitchen remodeling projects,” Ms. Ganong says. “But so what? Those things don’t matter to me anymore. I just want to make whoopie pies.”
Second Acts looks at the paths people are taking in their 50s and beyond. Kristi Essick, the author of these articles, is a writer in San Francisco. You can reach her, and tell us how you’re starting over, at firstname.lastname@example.org.