It was winter 2014 and I was managing the three shared kitchens at UrbanFarm Fermentory (UFF) in East Bayside. People had heard there was a "food hub" that had been setup inside of UFF's building with some local producers such as Swallowtail Farm Apothecary & Creamery, Maine Pie Line, Pure Pops, and Bomb Diggity Bakery. I watched as visitors came into the converted taxi cab garage looking to try out some treats and see some action! Unfortunately, the food hub never took off and the site is now a large tasting room exclusively for UFF. The problem had nothing to do with Portland's eagerness to support a food hub and everything to do with execution:
The food makers were busy cooking, and didn't have time to tend to customers, get stores to stock their items on shelves, and collaborate with the other entrepreneurs in the facility.
The zoning in East Bayside didn't allow retail sales unless it was during designated maker's market times.
The food hub proved too big of a project for UFF. It needed to focus its resources on growing already successful wholesale lines of kombucha and hard cider.
Armed with some hands-on experience and a vision for how a proper collaborative kitchen should be setup, Neil parted ways with UFF and started building Fork Food Lab. Eric and Neil serendipitously met shortly thereafter and have been plotting ever since.
Food makers that become members at Fork will be able to start working with very little capital due to an already built-out facility with floor drains, hoods, equipmentnt and storage. Fork staffs a tasting room on-site that acts as a welcoming room for the public to try out all creations being made at Fork and to throw special events such as cooking classes. Fork will put a truck on the road in 2017 and start delivering all these creations into markets around Maine so our members can stay focused on what they do best: creating innovative, delicious food. This is the beginning of a movement that will be tons of fun, keep foodies engaged on a whole new level, and create lots of jobs in Maine's thriving food economy.