I got a taste of what would be Simply Divine’s gourmet brownies eight years before the Maine company started. My teacher in the fourth- fifth- and sixth-grade multi-age class, Trina Beaulier, rewarded good behavior with brownie points. Once we earned enough check marks for going above and beyond in the classroom, we got a pan of her delicious brownies.
She introduced the word “Ghirardelli” into my 11-year-old, sixth-grade vocabulary and I have never looked back.
Today, Beaulier’s Simply Divine uses Callebaut chocolate from Belgium, but the rest of the ingredients are local. The butter is from Livermore Falls and the eggs are from Lobley Farms in Mount Vernon.
In June 2004, Beaulier was newly retired and living on Echo Lake. A teacher for 18 years, she started her career in Portland, then in Cumberland, where she received the Milken Educator Award (the Oscars of teaching) in 1998 and was simultaneously honored as a finalist for Teacher of the Year.
By the end of the summer she was going crazy.
She brought her daughter Kate back to school in New York City. They would “munch away the miles” stopping at a bakery, where everything looked so good in the case, but after one bite, the rest went back in the box.
“I could do so much better than that,” she thought and, “by Henry Hudson Parkway, I had a business.”
She started the company in November 2004 and despite her accountant trying to talk her out of entrepreneurship, Simply Divine sold $25,000 worth of treats that first Christmas. It required the business to move from her kitchen and into Fort Andross Mill in Brunswick.
In late spring of 2005, their website had been up for three weeks, receiving a few orders (from family members) when Daily Candy called. The insider guide website is “a handpicked selection of all that’s fun, fashionable, food related, and culturally stimulating.” Daily Candy received a letter (Beaulier still doesn’t know from whom) that said Simply Divine brownies were the best in the country. After being featured on their site, they received 500 orders.
“We owe everything we have to Daily Candy.”
Simply Divine has also been featured on the “Phantom Gourmet” twice and been the Rachael Ray treat of the day three times. There’s been national magazine press, including coverage from Country Living, Better Homes and Garden and Cooking with Paula Deen, and lots of Maine press, too.
One of Beaulier’s favorite moments as a businesswoman was having spot on the “Today” show with her daughter Meggen, who joined the company as chief operating officer in 2006. She still remembers the 5 a.m. limousine pickup.
Simply Divine has been featured on the Food Network six times and is the only company to have been featured on the show “Unwrapped” twice. Their Chakra Cherry Crumble was featured on an episode and it’s Beaulier’s favorite among the 32 flavors of brownies they make.
While all the national press is huge for business, it’s Maine people that keep Simply Divine humming: Mainers are still the company’s biggest customer base.
“We couldn’t have made it any other place than Maine. Maine people and fellow businesses have been so supportive.”
Support from other women entrepreneurs has helped, not hurt. Beaulier says she hasn’t felt any discrimination and women in business want to see each other succeed. She’s never thought of her gender too much in relation to business.
“I’m just a businessperson, not a businesswoman.”
Beaulier works with Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership and Maine Technology Institute, which helped her to understand principles of production and getting grant money. She worked with engineers from the University of Maine for the company’s one-of-a-kind brownie cutting machine.
In June 2010, they moved to a new store in Freeport closer to L.L. Bean and opened Apple Shed Bakery in Kents Hill. It’s a gourmet bakery in the middle of an apple orchard. The company has branched out from brownies to also make pies, cupcakes and dinner entrees.
She enjoys being at the Apple Shed. It’s a shorter commute and the people in the area are, “neighbors, not just customers.”
It’s not all sweet, though: Her worst moments are many and all surround the souring economy. Simply Divine brownies are a high-end product and lots of the business comes from corporate gifts. When these big businesses went bad in the economic downturn, she worried about the 30 people she has working for her.
She’s surprised at “how hard you have to work and how long you have to work to be profitable” – which the company was a few years ago until the downturn has made things tough. She still hasn’t taken a paycheck.
The future is looking bright, though, and 2011 is poised to be the best year ever, already topping their previous best year’s numbers in 2010.
Beaulier has just one piece of advice: “Be nice, it’s the most important thing.”
A CLOSER LOOK
7 Mill St.
Toll-free: 1-888-3BROWNI ?(327-6964)
In Maine: 865-3961
The Apple Shed
1625 Main St.
Kents Hill, ME
(across from the Kents Hill School)