Thursday, December 12, 2013
KENTS HILL -- For six years, Trina Beaulier drove past two Kents Hill institutions -- the Kents Hill Orchard and the Apple Shed bakery -- on her way to work in Brunswick, and later in Freeport.
Trina Beaulier runs Simply Divine Brownies in the Apple Shed Bakery across Route 17 from Kents Hill School in Readfield.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
That meant Beaulier saw a "For Sale" sign daily during her drive when the bakery went on the market late last year.
At the same time, the 84-acre orchard was also seeking a buyer.
"I said to my husband, 'We should call and find out about it,'" said Beaulier, who lives in Mount Vernon.
Ultimately, that call led to a new base of operations for Simply Divine Brownies, an enterprise Beaulier owns and operates with her daughter, Meggen.
It's a business that's carved out a niche for itself by crafting more than 35 flavors of gourmet brownies and selling them online, in Maine and through retailers in much of the country.
That brownie-baking business now does all its baking at the Apple Shed; it's been there since June 18.
"We just thought about the time we spend commuting," she said. The bakery is "three minutes from home, so we said, 'Let's do it.'"
While baking brownies, Beaulier has maintained all the previous operations of the Apple Shed bakery, selling the pies, turnovers, cinnamon rolls and other baked goods the shop is known for locally.
"When we first moved there, we thought we would just use it to produce brownies," Beaulier said. "Somehow, along the way, we ended up doing everything they always did, plus our brownies."
Corrine Drake, who ran the bakery for more than 30 years before retiring, says the new business model is working well.
Before stepping back from the operation, Drake shared all her secret recipes with the new crew taking over the operation.
"People are creatures of habit," she said. "You change something, and they don't like it."
But even though the addition of brownies represents a change for the Apple Shed's clientele, Drake said, it's an easy change to digest.
"Who doesn't like brownies and apple pie?" she asked.
"I'm just happy that they've taken over and are doing such a good job," Drake said. "Everybody that I meet, they're so happy that she's doing such a good job, and that makes me feel good."
For the picturesque property atop Kents Hill, the past few years have seen many changes.
The 84-acre orchard on Route 17 went on the market in 2008, with an uncertain future. Many in the area feared it would be the site of new housing subdivisions.
But the Maine Farmland Trust, a nonprofit farmland preservation group based in Belfast, completed its purchase of the property in February and secured a conservation easement, ensuring it will remain farmland.
Stacy Gambrel, the trust's lands projects coordinator, said Maine Farmland Trust is still seeking a farmer to take over the orchard.
There's been a lot of interest, she said.
Maine Farmland Trust is still raising money to cover the purchase costs, too, according to Gambrel.
Meanwhile, former owner Terry Drake has leased the orchard through the end of the year, and is maintaining the property.
As for Beaulier, she began her brownie business in her Mount Vernon kitchen in 2004, but had outgrown the cramped quarters by the end of that year.
From there, Simply Divine Brownies moved to a location at Brunswick's Fort Andross mill complex. In 2007, the business moved to a larger location at Wilbur's of Maine Chocolate in Freeport.
Now, Simply Divine splits its retail among the Apple Shed, another Freeport location and its website, simplydivinebrownies.com.
The business has 19 employees.
What's next for the brownie bakers, who have attracted national press and gained floor space in national retailers?
"Right now, I think we've taken enough leaps, and it's time to take small steps," Beaulier said. "For right now, we're just going to do what we're doing and iron out the kinks and make sure we're doing it well.
"My big worry right now is what harvest time will be like."
Matthew Stone -- 623-3811, ext. 435