Biscuits & Company
By Amanda Balagur
When I walk into Biscuits & Company on Alfred Street in downtown Biddeford, Maine, I am immediately struck by how comfortable and spacious it is. Even when it’s busy, the atmosphere is soothing. In the center of the big open room sits a rectangular communal table made of dark wood that could easily seat twelve. The walls are painted in calming tones of light and dark grey. Modern ceiling fans rotate mesmerizingly slowly, and the décor is an eclectic mix of bright orange metal chairs, wooden benches, colorful pillows and charming knickknacks.
Owner Stacy Cooper, a woman with short grey hair and a warm smile, mans the register. Her welcoming demeanor seems to set the tone of the space. Cooper keeps things moving without making anyone feel rushed, and takes time to greet each person individually as she takes their orders. She opened the doors of Biscuits & Company in mid-December, 2014, and has put her heart and soul into the business – and it shows.
“I imagined a place where everybody could come and be comfortable,” says Cooper, “and when I sit here and look at the range of demographics…people say, ‘Who’s your demographic, who’s your target audience?’ and I say ‘Hungry people’,” she laughs. Cooper’s clientele ranges from elderly locals who live within walking distance to young families to students from the nearby University of New England. Tourists have even started to make a detour into Biddeford just to have stop in for a bite to eat. Tearing up, Cooper adds, “I get really misty when I think about that, because this is what I imagined. It really is. I imagined a place where people would love to come and get good food and feel a sense of community.”
Although she’s not a native of Maine, Cooper has a long history with the area. She remembers spending summers at the beach in Biddeford Pool and hanging out in Biddeford’s booming downtown in the 1960s. Cooper grew up in Fredericton, New Brunswick, but her grandmother was friends with the Biddeford Pool postmistress, who let them stay in her attic on little camp cots for the summer. Cooper has felt a connection with the city ever since. After living in Boston for twenty years, she and her wife, musician Michelle Currie, decided to move to Biddeford for good seven years ago.
While Cooper has built her career in corporate training, she has always been involved in the restaurant industry. Years ago, she got her start at Hattie’s Restaurant, where she introduced biscuits to the menu. But it wasn’t until she moved to Maine and began frequenting the local farmers markets that she thought seriously about turning biscuits into a business.
Cooper remembers her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother whipping up plates of biscuits for family dinners when she was growing up. A few years ago, she attended the Maine Grain Alliance’s Kneading Conference and came across their fine sifted wheat flour made from local heirloom grains, which makes up 20% of the flour in her biscuits. It took some experimenting with ingredients and proportions, but once Cooper hit on the right recipe, she knew she had something great.
Just as Cooper was preparing to start selling her biscuits at farmers markets, her friend, local business owner Roxy Suger, alerted her to an amazing opportunity. Heart of Biddeford, an organization dedicated to redeveloping and promoting the business district of downtown Biddeford, was sponsoring a contest called The Main Street Challenge. It included an incentive package worth $20,000 for entrepreneurs to open businesses in empty storefronts downtown.
“I dashed off this one-page concept paper and sent it in, and they loved it,” remembers Cooper. In the second round, she had to prepare a Shark Tank-style business plan, and as one of six finalists, she defended her plan to a panel of judges. Of course, she also handed out samples of her biscuits, and was ecstatic when she won. To raise additional capital, Cooper held a party in the unfinished space; the names of individuals and businesses who contributed are listed in the restaurant on the “Founder’s Wall of Love.”
Cooper is the first to admit that creating Biscuits & Company was a community effort. She credits the local business owners, friends, family, staff and her clientele with making the business such a success. “It’s so cool to be a part of the Biddeford community and see how much people have embraced a place like this,” Cooper enthuses.
Unsurprisingly, the biscuits themselves are the star of the show at Biscuits & Company. They’re large and fluffy, with an addictive nutty sweetness and wonderfully crunchy exterior. While the Big Biscuit Sandwich, made with egg, cheddar, greens, roasted tomato and red pepper relish, is the biggest seller, the benedicts served on Sundays with the chef’s heavenly hollandaise are also a huge hit. Everything is handmade from scratch in-house using many local ingredients, including the pork sausage for the biscuits and gravy and the challah for French toast.
While Biscuits & Company is currently open Wednesday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch and Sunday for brunch, Cooper hopes to expand her business in the future. The challenge is to grow enough to keep up, yet maintain what they have already created. So plan accordingly when you make Biscuits & Company a destination on your next visit to Southern Maine. You won’t want to miss out on the delicious biscuit dishes made with so much love in the heart of the flourishing community of Biddeford.
Biscuits & Company 3-1-2 Biscuit Recipe (adapted for the home baker)
Makes about a dozen 2” biscuits
Note: Biscuits & Company uses a blend of unbleached all-purpose flour and a locally grown siftedwhole wheat flour from www.mainegrains.com
4 cups flour (about 18 oz)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
generous pinch of raw sugar (if desired)
12 Tablespoons (6 oz) chilled butter, cut in 1/2" cubes
1.5 cups (12 oz) cold buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Measure flour into the bowl, then add the baking powder, salt and sugar.
Cut cubed butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender, or simply use your hands to pinch and flatten about half of the butter pieces into the flour mixture. You should have a pebbly mixture with butter flakes and pea sized butter pieces.
Make a well in the center of the flour-butter mixture and add about half the buttermilk. Lightly toss the dry ingredients over the wet, turning the bowl till the dough forms lots of shaggy bits. Continue adding buttermilk until mixture barely comes together, but isn't sticky. You may need a little more or less liquid depending on humidity. You'll see some dry spots in the dough- that's OK - the melting butter will bring everything together.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently form it into a large ball. Pat the ball out to 1" thickness, then fold it in thirds like a letter, patting it down to 1" thickness again. Turn and fold the dough once more and pat it down to 1" thickness. Cut it into 2" squares or rounds.
Place the biscuits 1" apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 425 for 5-6 minutes.
Rotate pan for even baking and bake an additional 5-8 minutes till biscuits are golden brown.
Take biscuits out of the oven and brush with melted butter or honey if desired. Serve hot with butter & jam, or as a base for breakfast sandwiches, biscuits & gravy or shortcake.