BELFAST—Matt Burke and Jim Thompson, who moved to Midcoast Maine four years ago, have been working toward taking their cookie and granola company, Sweet Monkey Business to its fullest potential—and now they’ve done it with a production facility on Main Street in Belfast.
“I’ve always been a contractor/builder, but I was looking to do something different,” said Thompson. “We’d always wanted to do some kind of small business around food, maybe a café or something. We loved to bake and cook and Matt and I would make 50 or 60 batches of cookies to give to friends every Christmas such as a raspberry pecan cookie and a chocolate cookie dusted with powdered sugar. Many were inspired by Martha Stewart.”
The name and the business logo are a tribute to their mischievous dog, who was renowned for stealing socks.
“Matt and I would say, ‘She’s up to monkey business again,’” hence, the cheeky monkey stealing the cookie in the logo.
The Bakery Trail
Friends convinced the couple that they needed to commercially sell their cookies, so tried their wares out at The United Farmer’s Market in January 2020. Of all the shortbread cookie flavors they created, the lemon cookie turned out to be the crowd favorite.
“We just wanted to see if people would buy them,” said Burke. “A table costs about $40 a week, so we just wanted to see if people even liked them enough to go bigger.”
“People did like them; they kept coming back,” said Burke.
“We got together a quick business plan and the plan was to sell at a number of farmer’s markets,” said Thompson.
For all of the businesses that got the one-two gut punch at the start of the 2020 pandemic, nothing hurts quite like lining up all the pieces to a successful business launch, only to have no access to customers. In March 2020, they had just started using a test kitchen with The Crosby Center in Belfast and in three weeks, the entire state of Maine shut down in-person gatherings.
“So the plan shifted to an online business,” said Thompson. “That following Christmas, everyone had an online Christmas.”
With Thompson’s baking skills and Burke’s background in marketing for technology companies, the artisan cookies took off online. Another part of their expansion included educating themselves about how to sell their products wholesale. That took a lot of research, pitching emails, and physically delivering samples up and down the coast. All of this was brand new to both of them.
“And mistakes were made,” Thomspon said laughing.
One of their “oops” moments came in the form of packaging.
“In the beginning, when we would deliver batches of cookies to people in person, we packaged them in tins or boxes with soft tissue paper,” said Thompson “When we mailed them the same way, the cookies would be destroyed. We learned quickly. Although we did get some notes saying they were appreciative we weren’t using a lot of plastic packaging.”
But the work paid off.
“I’d say we’re now in some of the best specialty stores and markets on the coast,” said Thompson.
When lockdown started easing up about a year and a half later, many businesses started to rethink the in-person model once again.
“We realized we could get bigger with more products, so we added granola to our product line,” said Thompson, who modified a family recipe. Their granola is more concentrated with nuts and dried berries than oats. “We just played around with the recipe until we were happy with it,” he added.
The business took one more turn when the couple bought the building on Main Street in 2021, renovated the upstairs apartment, then customized the working space on the ground floor, converting it into a baking production facility. Thompson said they bake nearly 8,000 cookies a week to keep up with the demand for wholesale, retail, online, and in-person farmer’s markets.
“Maine is the perfect place to try out your ideas and start a small business,” said Burke. “It’s been an amazing, supportive community. And the wholesale community is the same. It’s the perfect place to start a small new business. They want to help you; they want to welcome you.”
For more information and where to find their cookies and granola in the Midcoast, visit: sweetmonkeybusiness.com/contact
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org