Working Toward a Common Goal—and the Common Good | November 2017
By Maria Landry
From baking to floral designing, from fitting formalwear to driving a delivery truck, Matt DuBois is never at a standstill at The Bankery and Skowhegan Fleuriste and Formalwear.
“I like the variety,” says DuBois, co-owner of both downtown Skowhegan businesses with his husband, Michael Hunt, and twin brother, Michael DuBois. “It’s always different. I like that our staff has become more like family than just employees. I like that atmosphere. I feel like we all work together for a common goal.”
That common goal includes a focus on local products and from-scratch baking that have long been important to The Bankery’s owners. It was back in 2007 that Matt DuBois and Hunt met while working at Frank’s Bake Shop in Bangor and realized they had similar goals and passions.
“We wanted to be our own bosses, we wanted to have a from-scratch bakery so that we knew what we were putting into our products, we could name off every ingredient and know that everything would be fresh and healthier than a lot of other bakeries,” DuBois said recently during a brief break from his bakery and flower shop responsibilities.
They knew Skowhegan was going to be their home—Hunt grew up in the area and takes care of an uncle who lives in town, plus they liked the central location and access to the outdoors—so they started to look at real estate.
“We fell in love with this old bank building and decided to take the plunge,” DuBois said of The Bankery’s 87 Water Street location. “We thought that the value for the building, the structural integrity, the layout, the character, all fit within the model that we were picturing in our heads.”
After purchasing the circa-1864 former bank in October 2007 and renovating it, DuBois and Hunt opened The Bankery on Aug. 9, 2008.
With a population of about nine thousand in Skowhegan and another nine thousand in the surrounding area, DuBois and Hunt thought they had a decent number of potential customers to make a go of it with a small bakery.
They were wrong. They weren’t just making a go of it—within two years they had so many customers that the bank building they’d fallen in love with had become too small for their success.
“We had blown our cash flow projections out of the water, started hiring people, started realizing we were running out of space to continue doing what we were doing,” DuBois recalled. In particular, Hunt’s cake decorating part of the business was burgeoning and needed room to grow,
Conveniently, a flower shop next door was for sale.
“We tried to purchase just the building at first, but they wanted to sell the business,” DuBois said. He and Hunt soon realized that the existing flower and formalwear shop could hold its own financially and would complement what they were already doing, particularly the wedding portion of their business.
On Oct. 25, 2010—three years to the day after they closed the sale on the bakery building—they purchased the flower shop. They kept the name Skowhegan Fleuriste, honoring its 26-year history and reputation as well as the area’s French heritage (“fleuriste” is French for florist) and DuBois’ French-Canadian background.
It was at the time of the flower shop purchase that they realized they needed extra help and turned to Michael DuBois.
“He had started his master’s at the University of Maine at Orono, but before that had helped us renovate the shop, helping us bake, assisting us in any way we needed throughout the first two years,” Matt DuBois said of his twin. In January 2011 Michael DuBois took over a third ownership stake for both The Bankery and Skowhegan Fleuriste and Formalwear.
“I think it was a good segue for Michael because he was trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his future and had a passion for cooking,” Matt DuBois said.
That passion combined with Matt DuBois’ culinary degree in pastry and baking and Hunt’s studio art degree—the springboard for The Bankery’s impressively decorated cakes—have all combined to make The Bankery and Skowhegan Fleuriste a landmark for local foods, custom cakes, and quality products.
“All of our milk is local, organic,” DuBois noted. “A lot of seasonal fruit and some year-round is local. We really try to focus on quality. If we use something that’s maple, we use maple syrup and it’s locally sourced in Skowhegan. When they’re in season, we buy a lot of local flowers. Local flour from the grist mill. And we’re continuing to think about new partnerships with other local businesses.”
Recently the Fleuriste has started partnering with farmers including Skyfall Flowers in Starks, Moodytown Gardens in Palmyra, and Cates Family Glads in Vassalboro.
“It’s really neat to be able to partner with people to grow flowers that we want to sell in our local market,” DuBois said. “Typically a flower shop orders from a purveyor that gets flowers from all over the world—and which we have access to and use on a daily basis—but to me it’s more exciting to be surprised week to week what a grower has available, what’s fresh and what’s in season that day, that week.”
In addition to local flowers, local flour and grains are also at the forefront. A Maine Grain Alliance member, The Bankery will start offering bread on a larger scale in 2018.
“Each month we’ll feature a different artisan loaf so we can keep things different and fresh. It’s putting different types of bread out there for people to try and explore and really highlighting the local grains that are available. … As we move forward we always try to have an eye for improvement.”
That eye for improvement extends beyond the two businesses into the Skowhegan community.
“I think that giving back, whether it’s time, products, or money, is important to say thank you for the patronage from all of our local customers,” DuBois reflected. “Also, I feel like there’s a responsibility in all of us, whether you’re a business person or not, to participate in economic and community development so that there is a future for the next generation.”