How many bakers do you know who have a degree in Chemical Engineering? And a background in computer programming? Oh, as well as a degree from the New England Culinary Institute in Baking and Pastry Arts? Well if you know an international couple with that pedigree, you must know Irene Lim, who together with her husband Thys, are the owners of Fernleaf Bakery and Coffee House in Saco.
When these two natives of Malaysia (Irene) and Zambia (Thys) met in Toronto they were both working in business, but both also wanted a lifestyle change and having a baby decided it for them. They wanted to live in a friendly neighborhood in a home with a yard for the baby. And Irene, an excellent amateur baker, wanted to go to culinary school to hone her skills. While Irene took time out to go to the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont to get a degree in Baking and Pastry Arts, Thys, who wanted to be by the sea, found the perfect spot in Saco.
As it came time to finance the fit-out of the building on Free Street behind the Saco Post Office, they relied on personal savings and credit cards. Realizing that more reliable and cost-effective borrowing was needed, they went to Saco & Biddeford Savings and were immediately referred to Southern Maine Finance Agency (SMFA) who saw their skills in a new way.
“We listen to our customers,” says Thys. “And SMFA found the right programs to help us as we repaired our roof and expanded into savory items like Chicken Pot Pie and luncheon specialties.”
“We are always looking to expand our market,” says Irene who is already planning to appeal to more customers with a more extensive menu.