BANGOR, Maine — A city institution has changed hands: Two local brothers have bought the Brick Oven Bangor Rye Bakery in a deal that closed Friday.
Paul and Peter Huston of Bangor and Hampden, respectively, bought the business after they each were laid off from long careers in the pharmaceutical sector last year.
Bangor Rye is as famous for its challah, sub rolls, bulkees and hard rolls as it is for the family that owned and operated it for decades. The bakery was run by Reuben and Clara Cohen from the late 1920s until the 1990s. Reuben and Clara were the parents of William Cohen, who served Maine as a U.S. senator and was secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton.
The Hancock Street company was sold to Ralph and Marlene Beckwith, Reuben and Clara Cohen’s daughter, in 1996. The Beckwiths divorced three years ago. Ralph Beckwith has been the sole owner of the bakery since then, and has been quietly looking for a buyer for several years.
“I’m 70 years old, I haven’t had a vacation in 25 years, at least,” said Beckwith of his decision to sell.
Despite putting in six days a week for years on end, Beckwith was obviously a bit broken up about finally selling the business during a recent interview.
“When I think about it, it’s very emotional,” Beckwith said, pausing to compose himself.
He met the Hustons through mutual acquaintances, and Paul Huston, 47, started working with Beckwith in September, learning the business from the ground up.
He had been laid off in June from GlaxoSmithKline, where he had worked for 16 years in sales. Pete Huston, 45, worked for GlaxoSmithKline for 19 years, also in sales, and was laid off in October. The brothers said they saw the timing as a golden opportunity to work together to own and operate a small business. They looked into franchise opportunities and other options before settling on the bakery.
“One thing we wanted was something that was part of a community — part of our community,” said Pete Huston.
Both men are self-described “foodies” who enjoy cooking and have been patrons of both Bangor Rye and Beckwith’s former bakery on Harlow Street, the Brick Oven, since they were young. Paul Huston recalled stopping into the Harlow Street bakery in the summer to pick up fresh rolls before heading to camp for a cookout. And bread from Bangor Rye has been a must for every holiday, said his brother, and their mother would let them know if they got the wrong rolls.
Neither Beckwith nor the Hustons would disclose the sale price of the property and business. The bakery currently employs 14 people, running one shift. The Hustons come in around 8:30 p.m. to go through orders and begin making the dough needed, and the crew shows up at around 11 p.m. to start making the breads.
They sell to area sub shops, pizzerias, cafeterias, restaurants convenience stores, Hannaford grocery stores and other outlets, and also sell bread straight from the bakery. They take orders daily, making fresh bread without preservatives that has a limited shelf life. On a regular day, they make about 150 dozen large sub rolls, 50 dozen small sub rolls and 300 dozen hard rolls, as well as other varieties. For the holidays, those numbers can jump drastically.
They sell within a roughly 20-mile radius of Bangor, and have a core of about 50 regular business customers. The bakery also is the only kosher retail bakery operation in Maine, the brothers noted.
The Hustons said they had no plans to change the work force, and noted that the operation works well as it is. Where they hope to make changes are in the sales and marketing efforts. They hope to expand their selling radius, and possibly offer more products to businesses to which they already cater. They do have the capacity to add another shift, if needed, they said.
In putting together the business plan, the brothers worked with Tom Gallant, director of the Small Business Development Center hosted at Coastal Enterprises Inc., in Bangor. Gallant noted that the operations part of the business was intact, and that the financial and accounting part of the business could be handled by Paul Huston, who worked in the banking industry prior to going into pharmaceutical sales.
Both brothers have a strong background in sales and marketing, he said.
“That’s a perfect fit for where this business is,” Gallant said. “Bangor Rye rolls have a name recognition locally that’s very strong. They have the expertise to take that local brand and grow it geographically — it’s relatively easy for them with their background and skills.”
The brothers said they recognize the challenges of working with family members on a business, but agreed going into the deal that their relationship, and their families’ relationships, was the most important thing to them. They also see this as an opportunity to get their children involved in the business, as well.
Their mother, a longtime fan of the bakery, is thrilled, said the brothers.
“She knows she has bread for life,” said Paul Huston.
Added his brother, “And we’ll never make the mistake of bringing home the wrong rolls again.”
This article has been updated to correct misspellings in photo credit lines of the last names of both the brothers and the previous owner of the bakery.