Ed and Molly Foley were hoping they’d be able to sell their popular Monument Square bakery and quietly walk away into a new life.
No such luck.
Word got out they were selling and panicked customers began asking questions, no doubt worried about where they would get their next creme horn fix. The Foleys had to come clean.
“Realistically, there were just too many relationships that we developed that we respected,” Molly Foley said Thursday, the day after the couple sold their business in the Monument Way building to baker Andrea Swanson. “I couldn’t do that.”
So instead of dropping their aprons and walking away, the Foleys are doing their best to reassure customers that nothing will change at Foley’s Bakery. Swanson is an old friend who worked with Ed Foley 20 years ago at the legendary Port Bakehouse on Saint John Street, and she knows all of his recipes “inside and out.”
“He taught me everything,” Swanson said, taking a break from baking with Ed Foley on Thursday morning to talk about her plans for the place. “First of all, his stuff is the best. I’ve always thought it, and I still think it. Changing anything would be ludicrous.”
Swanson said she might add some items in the future, but for now customers can still expect to see Foley’s signature marble mousse cakes and other bestsellers – chocolate chip cookies, chocolate mousse bombs, creme horns and eclairs – in the bakery case. Even the name of the bakery will remain the same.
Foley will stay on for another couple of weeks so the transition goes like butter, and he’ll be back to help out during the holidays.
So why is he leaving? He’s having surgery in August, and the lease on the bakery was coming up for renewal at about the same time. Juggling those two issues made him rethink the strenuous nature of the job and the 12- to 18-hour days that often begin at midnight. Did he really want to sign up for more?
“We just thought about everything that we had on our plate and decided it was a good time for us to try to market the bakery,” he said.
He gave his broker a list of people he knew who might be interested in purchasing the place, and Swanson was on it.
“It was a perfect fit for her, seeing she had worked with me and was going to keep everything the same, maintain the quality,” Ed Foley said.
It’s harder to predict whether Swanson will be able to replicate the overall vibe of the place, where the croissants make you feel like you’re in Paris and the peanut butter cookies are dense, chewy and addictive.
Some things will be easy. There’s an open kitchen at Foley’s where customers are able to watch Ed Foley at work while they decide whether to buy a lemon bar or a cream cheese brownie. Coffee by Design coffee is sold cheap there (pastry bait?) and even cheaper if you bring in your own container – just $1, no matter how large the mug.
What might be harder is replacing Ed Foley’s wide grin and hearty laugh, or mimicking Molly Foley’s easy way with customers: “Hi there, how are you folks? OK, well, if you have any questions you can ask me.”
She has handled the front of the house and often can be found still hard at work in the late afternoon, sitting at a little table working on the bakery’s books, long after her husband has gone home to bed. She doesn’t bake anything herself, but knows all of the ingredients by heart, explaining to newcomers with ease that the Swiss Linzer torte is made with imported raspberry jam in a hazelnut butter dough. She predicts what regulars will buy before they even walk through the glass door.
“I know it sounds cliche, but we’ve really developed so many good relationships with people, it will be hard to not get to see them,” she said.
The couple has been through this kind of letting go before. They launched the bakery in 1997 at 341 Congress St., then in 2002 quit to spend more time with their sons. They came back nearly 10 years later to rebuild the business. It was a challenge because of all the new bakeries that had popped up in Portland in the meantime to give them competition, but the task was made much easier when old customers found them again.
Ed Foley learned how to bake at the Black Point Inn in Scarborough and later worked at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan. That’s where he met Molly, who was running the hotel’s golf course.
Foley’s baking career then took the couple to Washington, D.C., where he was a pastry chef at the Tivoli and Watergate bakeries and regularly baked for the White House. He even made a farewell cake for Ronald Reagan when he left the presidency.
He taught at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont for a couple of years before moving to Maine to open his own place.
Foley’s new owner, Swanson, worked several years at Wild Oats Bakery in Brunswick, at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, and has had her own wedding cake business. She tried going to school to become an architect, but realized she could never sit behind a desk every day.
“I’ve been doing this forever,” she said. “It’s in my blood.”
Ed Foley said he has no idea what he’s going to do next. When he left the bakery before, he worked as an office manager for an excavation company. It was hard to walk away from the bakery back then, and he expects it to be difficult this time, too, although there is an upside.
“I enjoyed my life,” he said, describing his last break from baking. “I had some time, fished, hunted, did all the things that everybody gets to do that you don’t get to do when you have a business like this. But I missed it.”
That doesn’t mean you’ll find him baking more at home. “Never,” he said, laughing. “Once I’m out of a professional kitchen, I’m done. I couldn’t function in a home kitchen.”
For Molly Foley, moving on is “going to be utterly bittersweet,” she said as she began to tear up. “We have both put our heart and soul into this, and to have to give it up was definitely not our first choice, but it really and truly was our only choice.”