Elizabeth Hussey is the fourth generation of her family—and the first woman—to own and operate Reilly’s Bakery in Biddeford
I’ve loved the bakery since I was little,” says Elizabeth Hussey. “The bakery has always been home.”
As a child, Hussey would tag along with her father on Sunday mornings when the bakery was closed. While he did paperwork in the office, she would create monsters out of the bakery twine and play with the decorating supplies. Now, at 42, she is the one doing paperwork and the fourth generation to own and operate Reilly’s Bakery.
Reilly’s Bakery is a Main Street fixture in Biddeford. It was founded in 1910 by Hussey’s great-grandfather and his brother-in-law. Over the years, the business was passed down to her grandfather, then to her father Michael Reilly. When her dad started talking retirement, Hussey and her husband had a decision to make.
“There was some soul searching, but Kevin and I were both in the business, physically and in our hearts,” she says. “One day I was looking around, considering what it would be like liquidating three generations of my family’s life—the rolling pins my great-grandfather used, seasoned bread pans that have spanned multiple decades. Although I already appreciated the honor of taking over that legacy, I realized there is no place I’d rather be.”
When news spread that Hussey and her husband would take over the family business, generations of Reilly’s Bakery lovers breathed a sigh of relief, myself included. It would be hard to imagine Main Street without the scent of early morning doughnuts and fresh loaves of bread wafting through the street.
Like most Reilly’s Bakery loyalists, I have been indulging in their chocolate-covered doughnuts, Neapolitans, eclairs, cakes and more for the entirety of my life, as did my parents and grandparents. My grandfather worked there as a delivery boy before World War II, and I worked the counter in high school and during a few other sporadic stints.
My personal favorite is the chocolate-covered doughnut—a basic cake doughnut topped with their rich chocolate frosting. On the way to my bus stop, sometimes my dad would pick up this particular doughnut, which was also sold at a neighborhood gas station. We would split it bite for bite while I waited to head off to school. As an adult, I’ve shared my love for those chocolate-covered doughnuts with many a coworker, bringing in dozens in on any given Friday when the bakery’s special is buy one, get one free.
“I wanted to bring the cake art that is trending across the world to Biddeford. Cakes are a special purchase to begin with and adding the personalization through decoration is something that I have strived for.”
My experience is but one example of the stories Hussey hears daily about how her bakery is home for so many. Regular customers have their daily treats or usual orders, but people from out of town or out of state carve time into their schedule to stop by Reilly’s Bakery and order their favorite childhood memory. These visitors are usually somewhere along their path to complete what has come to be known as the “Biddeford trifecta”—a pizza from Pizza by Alex, an Italian from George’s and a treat from Reilly’s Bakery.
“It seems like every time I step out front, I hear a story,” says Hussey. “I love those stories. That is why we’re still here.”
In addition to the bakery visits upon returning home, people have asked the Husseys to ship their favorite goods country-wide. Kevin Hussey recalls one woman who ordered a cake and frosting each year to be packaged and shipped to California. Once received, she would assemble the cake for her husband’s birthday.
Hussey’s fate of assuming ownership in the family business wasn’t always certain. At the age of 14, she started working as a cashier and worked for her father throughout her teens. In adulthood, she left the bakery to try her hand at journalism and a few other careers, but nothing pulled her heartstrings quite like the bakery. In 2006, she officially returned for the long-haul and also changed the business model.
“In my grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s reign, the bake shop was ‘men’s work’ and the women were allocated to customer service. Women were not allowed past the doorway to the back shop unless it was an emergency,” Hussey recalls. “My father eventually realized the untapped potential of helping hands, despite their gender, for things like decorating pastries. Baking was still off limits.”
“I became the super annoying squeaky wheel,” says Hussey. “I wanted to help my overworked and burnt-out dad, but also wanted to prove myself.”
At this point, she had worked every corner of the bakery from cashier and customer service to pastry and cake decorating. As she gravitated toward the back of the shop, she took on grunt work and menial baking tasks, as well as dishwashing. She wanted to show her father she could do anything, be it decorating birthday and wedding cakes to laying out dozens of cookies and doughnuts or slinging dough for loaves of bread.
It felt natural for Kevin to join his wife in this endeavor, since the bakery is where they first connected when she was in high school, he in his early 20s. The two became friends while working together. Years later, after each had their own respective marriages and divorces. Kevin and Elizabeth crossed paths again. After a few years together, Kevin started pitching in at the bakery helping a few hours before his full-time job each day. Eventually, a few hours turned into six—sometimes more.
“It was really hard to leave (the bakery) the first time. It is a hard place to leave if you love it,” says Kevin Hussey. “When Elizabeth decided she wanted to take over, I was on board.”
Elizabeth says, “He’s now an integral part of the baking production.”
Another integral player on the team is Amy Springer, Reilly’s Bakery’s lead cake decorator. She has helped elevate their cake offerings to a new, modern level.
“When I first started at Reilly’s, our cakes were mostly three frosting roses and bunting in bright colors with a shell border,” says Springer. “I wanted to bring the cake art that is trending across the world to Biddeford. Cakes are a special purchase to begin with and adding the personalization through decoration is something that I have strived for.”
Even still, Springer will default to the “traditional” décor if requested and the mainstays will never disappear from the bakery shelves.
As Hussey continues and grows her family’s business, she is keenly aware of its history. Her focus is on “maintaining the tradition plus creating reasons to keep new customers coming in.”
To sample some of these tasty treats, visit
Reilly’s Bakery, 232 Main St., Biddeford
Emma Bouthillette authored “A Brief History of Biddeford,” about her hometown. She is a yoga instructor and a corgi mom. (emmabouthillette.com)