August 08, 2012BERLIN - When her daughter convinced her to try and sell a few loaves of bread at the farmers' market last summer, Pam Jesseman never thought it would lead to a new career.
But that's just what happened. Sweet Mamas, as they named their farmers' market stand, was so successful by fall she and her daughter Heather Marquis knew they had to find a storefront and take the chance on a new career direction.
So far, so good. They opened Sweet Mamas after months of cleaning, reconstruction and putting in the equipment they needed. The Main Street building, located near Ron's Variety, had been a former dry cleaners and for awhile a sports store.
Pam had been working at the state prison, where she had been a corrections officer for 12 years. Her daughter Heather and son-in-law Jeff still are. But they both contribute products to the store and help out with the baking and farmers' market. Pam's husband Ralph helps out as well, after work and on Saturdays. It's become a real family affair.
The whole thing started when Pam decided she wanted to learn to make bread. King Arthur's flour in Vermont offers a four day class and she took it.
Meanwhile Heather was taking some culinary arts classes at the White Mountain Community College.
"Heather said to me, 'why don't we try the farmers' market,' and so we did," Pam said.
Heather got her kitchen licensed and they started baking.
"It's a lot of work to bake 50 loaves of bread in one oven," Pam said.
The two loaded up two pickup trucks and went to the market. They would sell out just about every week.
After the farmers' market ended for the season, they started to look for a store to rent. They found their current location, but it needed a lot of work. They hired professionals when they needed to, for the electrical work, but did the rest themselves with family and friends help. The place required 107 sheets of sheetrock. The ceiling had to be double layered because there are apartments upstairs.
"It needed everything but the doors and windows," Pam said.
Pam quit her job at the prison and now does this full time. Her husband helps after work and Heather works on her days off from the prison. She is hoping this will eventually grow into a full time position for her as well.
The store is open Wednesdays and Fridays 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursdays and Saturdays 8 a.m. to noon. When this writer came on a Tuesday afternoon, Pam was getting the bread dough ready. They would bake 30 loaves that night.
In addition to baked goods, bread (white, wheat, English muffin, harvest grain, oatmeal, cinnamon with or without raisons, jalapeno cheddar and baking cheddar), cookies, date bars, granola bars, cakes, etc. they also offer a large selection of dilly jellies and vegetables, various types of pickles, smoked cheeses, spam, and pistacheos, smoked spices and seasonings, pickled products like eggs, water melon rind and summer squash.
Heather's husband Jeff makes the dilly, pickled and smoked products. There are also dog treats, made from spent grains from brewing beer.
The bakery also makes cakes to order and appreciates a week notice on those.
The store offers some gift items as well. A friend makes small purses and another macrame hangers. Heather' step daughter Elizabeth, 13, makes Comfort Cozy's.
Pam and Heather both said they are enjoying their new career.
"I like making products people enjoy and come back for more," Pam said. "People have told us we make the best snowballs in Berlin."
"I like meeting new people, having them appreciate what we do, getting that positive feedback, knowing people look forward to getting your products," Heather said.
Both said sometimes there's some negative feedback as well, but when that happens they see it as an opportunity to improve their product.
There are also constantly trying new things.
"We try to add new stuff once we get to the point where we're making everything we make on a daily basis with no problems," they said.
They have also expanded their products by customer request, a big one was for date bars.
"A lot of people will come in and ask how we're doing. They want us to make it," Pam said.
"We also have a lot of business owners that come in to make sure we're okay," Heather added.
There's always a "tip jar" on the counter, but it's not for them. The fledgling business is trying to do its part in helping out local worthy causes. At times, the money has gone to the Brown School Playground and the Barry Conservation Camp.