Friday, April 18, 2014
ARUNDEL — Stacy Cooper checked on a batch of biscuits in the oven – “We’ll give them another two minutes and let them get nice and crispy” – then sat down at her kitchen table and re-created a conversation she had with the judges for the Main Street Challenge, a contest for entrepreneurs who want to open their own business in downtown Biddeford.
One of Stacy Cooper’s sandwiches consists of a halved biscuit with smoked cheddar cheese, nitrate-free bacon, an over-easy egg, spiced tomato jam and arugula.
Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer
Stacy Cooper makes biscuits in her Arundel kitchen. She plans to open Biscuits & Co. in downtown Biddeford with funding from the Main Street Challenge. Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer
The Heart of Biddeford’s Main Street Challenge chooses up to three new businesses to support with a prize package worth $20,000 in cash and in-kind services. This year’s three winners are:
Desert Moon Leathers - handmade leather goods by Mike Harris
Micro-Brewery - a craft brewery and tasting room from Shonee Strickland
Biscuits & Company - a biscuit bakery using specialty Maine grains, from Stacy Cooper
One of them had asked her if she is truly prepared for the long hours and hard work it will take to run Biscuits & Co., a small batch biscuit bakery she hopes to open with the help of the contest’s $20,000 prize package.
Cooper explained to the judge that she’s worked the before-sunrise breakfast shift at restaurants, and her current work as a corporate trainer involves long hours and 4 a.m. trips to the airport. But the bakery project, she continued, goes beyond simply being prepared for hard work. It is the fulfillment of a longtime dream.
“To me,” Cooper said, “being in the kitchen, up to my elbows in dough and dishes, is really kind of appealing because it’s something that I love.”
Cooper, like other applicants to the Main Street Challenge, had to make it through three phases of the contest. For the first phase, they wrote a simple pitch describing their idea and what their business would do to “enhance” Biddeford. The second phase involved writing a more detailed business plan. Finally, each entrepreneur had to give a 30-minute presentation in front of the judges.
Whether it was Cooper’s answer to the judge’s question during her presentation that sealed the deal, or the box of baked goods she brought along with her to build her case, she discovered Tuesday night that she is one of three winners who will receive a $10,000 forgivable loan, special bank loan rates, and more than $6,000 of in-kind services, including four months of free rent and free website design.
The other winners were Shonee Strickland, who plans to open a craft brewery and tasting room called Micro-Brewery, and Mike Harris, who is opening a handmade leather goods business called Desert Moon Leathers.
This is the second year Biddeford has held a Main Street Challenge to help fill its vacant storefronts. The three-month competition is organized by the Heart of Biddeford, a group dedicated to the revitalization of downtown, and it seems to attract food-related businesses like unattended french fries attract seagulls. Two-thirds of the 27 entrepreneurs who applied last year were food businesses; one of the winners was a vegetarian cafe called “Dahlia’s Delights,” open for business at 137 Main St.
This year, half of the 17 applicants were food- or drink-related businesses, including three of the four finalists.
Heart of Biddeford Executive Director Delilah Poupore says that most of the food entrepreneurs who make it to the second round “talk about dreaming about this their whole life. It’s the financial incentive and creativity behind the Main Street Challenge that really piques their interest, and then they take the leap.”
Cooper, Poupore said, “just really wowed the judges, and also brought in these incredible biscuits that just blew us all away.”
Cooper, 53, says that, initially, she didn’t believe she was ready for the Main Street Challenge – winners must have their businesses open by June 20 – but a friend convinced her to go ahead and apply. It forced her to write a pitch, and by the time she got around to developing her business plan for the judges, she was all in.
“That forced me to think through what this would really look like,” Cooper said, “and to start looking at locations, and to start thinking about a menu.”
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