by Chris Chase
Coastal Journal staff
BRUNSWICK — The Wild Oats Bakery and Café in Brunswick has been named as Maine’s 2012 Retailer of the Year by the Maine Merchants Association.
The association, which represents business interests in Maine, selects the winner based on three main criteria: Growth in employees or sales, commitment of company resources to community projects, and a positive work environment for employees.
Becky Shepherd, who co-owns the business with her husband David, said she feels that the award is a result of the business practices they have strived to meet from the very beginning.
“I guess I feel like we’ve developed a strong reputation for always trying to improve,” said Shepherd.
According to Shepherd, they have consistently worked towards improving and changing the menu, both by improving recipes and finding new ones. Treating the employees well, improving their hiring process, and retaining employees for a long time are all goals they work on.
“We just focus on our business and how we can improve,” said Shepherd. “We focus on what we’re doing, both what we’re doing well and what we can do better.”
Opened in 1991, Wild Oats is currently located in the Tontine Mall in downtown Brunswick. The business carries a variety of goods, from soups and burritos to cakes and muffins. Everything is made on-site, and according to Shepherd, they buy as many ingredients and products locally as they can and are constantly pushing to improve.
“I feel like I’m someone that needs to constantly move forward,” said Shepherd.
According to the press release by the Maine Merchants Association, Wild Oats was selected due to their recent expansion during the recession, their consistent use of and investment in local resources, as well as their donations to local charities.
“Wild Oats Bakery & Café is an excellent selection for this years award,” said Curtis Picard, Executive Director of the Maine Merchants Association in their press release. “A they enter their 22nd year of operation, they continue to expand, hire dedicated and loyal employees and are an anchor of the downtown Brunswick community.”
Shepherd said she feels her business has benefited somewhat by the recent “locavore” movement, which encourages people to consume locally produced food, but that they don’t rely on fads or trends to shape their business model. With ideas like the Atkins Diet and other food fads constantly coming and going, their decision to buy local stems from basic business tenets, she said, and not from any need to ride the waves.
“I think it’s something that we’ve been doing for 22 years,” said Shepherd, “But it’s something that’s coming around again in popular opinion.”
Although she is very happy they received the award, Shepherd feels that the day-to-day hasn’t changed, aside from customer comments.
“The biggest response has been in the response from customers who are already here,” said Shepherd. “We’ve gotten so many comments.”
According to Shepherd, the bakery’s day begins at roughly 2:30 in the morning, and doesn’t end until midnight. Although she isn’t at the bakery all the time, she’s always on call. However, the success of the bakery, according to Shepherd, rests on the shoulders of the staff that she has hired.
“I’m surrounding myself with people who help me achieve my goals,” said Shepherd of her staff. “I work with some great people.”
In other words, as much as this award has brought Wild Oats some well-deserved attention, it has also put the spotlight on her employees.
“It’s really rewarding to our staff,” said Shepherd, “I feel like they all have a big role in that. It gives them a lot of pride.”
Currently, Shepherd says her plans are the same as they were before the award: Keep things fresh, always seek improvement, and make sure people come first.
“The bread doesn’t talk back,” said Shepherd. “The people do.”