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FORT KENT, Maine — Business took a turn for the better recently for a Fort Kent diner when a St. John Valley native who had a hankering for baked goods from back home asked the owners to send him a favorite treat — whoopie pies.
Like many of Maine’s small businesses, Rock’s Family Diner in Fort Kent has experienced a drop in revenue as people are staying home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.
“Takeouts have been very slow,” said Peter Pinette, who owns Rock’s along with his wife, Sandra Pelletier Pinette.
Ryan Jandreau, a branch manager at Maine Savings Federal Credit Union in Portland, reached out to Sandra Pelletier Pinette — the mother of one of his high school classmates — hoping she would send him some of the baked goods he enjoyed while growing up.
“This pandemic has been a little stressful, so I just wanted something from home. I had seen Sandra posting their daily specials and takeout meals. I wished I was there to support them as well, so figured I’d ask her about shipping her whoopie pies,” Jandreau said. “I think I get one every time I go to Rock’s when I’m home.”
Within a few days, Jandreau received a dozen of Rock’s homemade chocolate whoopie pies sent via U.S. Priority Mail. He shared them with his staff of essential workers at the financial institution.
Jandreau posted a photo of the whoopie pies on his Facebook page, and before they knew it, the Pinettes were receiving requests from all over the country to ship out the popular Maine treats.
In less than a week, the Pinettes and their cook Darlene Plourde have baked and shipped 150 dozen chocolate and pumpkin chocolate chip whoopie pies to customers throughout New England, as well as to Florida, Texas, California and even Alaska.
Rock’s still offers takeout meals, but the Pinettes have adapted their business model to include the shipment of homemade whoopie pies to individuals throughout the country.
“Rock’s has been a staple in Fort Kent, so I’m not surprised at how much traction this has gained,” Jandreau said.
The Pinettes purchased Rock’s in 2001, but the restaurant has been a Fort Kent favorite since 1945.
“We’re trying to keep the legacy going,” Peter Pinette said.
It is too soon to tell what long-term effects the COVID-19 threat will have on business at Rock’s Family Diner, or how long the Pinettes will be able to sustain the success of their whoopie pie shipments.
“Right now it’s hard to say,” Peter Pinette said. “We’re just taking it one day at a time. We’re adapting and coping.”
Jandreau said he is also longing for another menu item Rock’s is famous for in the St. John Valley — poutine — which is a plate of french fries mixed with cheese curds and smothered with gravy.
“I’m still waiting for Sandra to figure out a way to mail me one,” Jandreau said.
Watch: What does returning to normal look like?