2013-08-16 / People


Little Bigs has passion
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

Pamela Fitzpatrick and James Murray Plunkett Pamela Fitzpatrick and James Murray Plunkett Three days before the scheduled opening of Little Bigs, their new carry out bakery on Main Street in South Portland, co-owners James Murray Plunkett and Pamela Fitzpatrick are already bustling through the kitchen, making dough, mixing ingredients and checking ovens.

Fitzpatrick and Plunkett planned to serve the public with their first batch of Texas chili empanadas, Maine blueberry pop tarts, as well as other variations of doughnuts and hand pies Thursday morning, Aug. 15.

The co-owners, who recently moved from Chicago to Maine to open their business, have the sort of high energy personalities that make waking up at 4 a.m. a force of habit rather than a byproduct of their respective professions, which has made the months leading up to the opening of Little Bigs a challenge.

“It’s been the hardest six months of our lives really, because of things that are out of control and the waiting. Rarely do you find two people with more of an urgency than her and I. We’re both very high energy people,” Plunkett said.

The Little Bigs’ co-owners, who have been married for a year, each bring more than 20 years of experience – Plunkett as a chef, Fitzpatrick as a baker – in a wide range of locations throughout the country. Plunkett has cooked at a fly fishing resort in Montana, a glacier lodge in Alaska and, most recently, as chef de cuisine at Browntrout, a farm-totable restaurant in Chicago.

Fitzpatrick got her start at La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles, before her career took her to New York City and then to Chicago, where she was in charge of more than 100 employees with Corner Bakery. She most recently was corporate chef for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc.

Now, after finding success with their respective employers, Plunkett and Fitzpatrick are ready to branch out on their own.

“We just put our heads together and figured there’s absolutely no reason why we should be working for somebody else anymore,” Plunkett said.

The hand pies – small, utensil-free pastries stuffed with filling – will allow Fitzpatrick and Plunkett to both show off their creativity and respond to their customers’ preferences as they experiment with new recipes. Plunkett said possibilities with the hand pies are “limitless” because each culture puts a different twist on the dishes – from empanadas to Australian meat pies.

Fitzpatrick is also enthusiastic about sharing her passion for baking and creative tastes with the community.

“I love flour and butter and sugar and salt. Those are my toys,” Fitzpatrick said.

The Little Bigs’ co-owners originally planned to open their new venture in Chicago, but an unsuccessful search complicated by mountains of bureaucratic red tape brought them to the Portland area, where they say the permitting process was much more streamlined. They originally looked in downtown Portland, but later expanded their circle to South Portland and settled on the Main Street space, formerly an office building for Webber Fuel.

The small area gives customers the immediate sense they are sharing the kitchen with Fitzpatrick and Plunkett when they walk into Little Bigs. A counter that displays items and a chalkboard menu share an open space with shelves of kitchen goods, cutting boards, mixing bowls, ovens and the coowners themselves.

“I always liked the idea of walking into the space and you feel like you’re in the middle of it without any barriers really. It’s a participatory experience,” Fitzpatrick said.

The opening of Little Bigs is scheduled to come just days before the opening of Elsmere BBQ & Wood Grill on Cottage Road. Portland’s Otto Pizza plans to expand its network of pizza restaurants to Cottage Road as well, joining the rapidly growing restaurant scene south of the Casco Bay Bridge.

Plunkett said he expects more Portland customers in South Portland to eat and visit as restaurants continue to move in, and is looking forward to Little Bigs taking part in that trend.

“There’s a nice little niche here, we’re kind of wanting to help put South Portland on the map,” Plunkett said.

Little Bigs will open from 6 a.m. through sellout or 3 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, visit its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/LittleBigs.

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