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December 4, 2017

Growing masonry company buys Portland building with legacy of business growth

Courtesy / Tito Masonry and Construction
Courtesy / Tito Masonry and Construction
Moravia “Tito” Drice, owner of Tito Masonry and Construction.

PORTLAND — The building at 188 Presumpscot St. isn't much to look at. But its recent sale signals the growth of the businesses belonging to the buyer and the seller, and both have made bootstrap journeys up through two of Maine's flourishing industries.

Moravia "Tito" Drice, owner of Tito Masonry and Construction, purchased the 1,156-square-foot building on 0.68 acre — formerly a single-family home built in 1920 — from Tollef Olson, a Maine aquaculture pioneer, for $300,000.

Scott Balfour of Magnusson Balfour Commercial & Business Brokers represented both buyer and seller in the deal, which closed Nov. 8.

Room for trucks and equipment

Courtesy / Magnusson Balfour
Courtesy / Magnusson Balfour
The land to the rear of 188 Presumpscot St. is what made it valuable to Tito Masonry and Construction.

Tito Masonry and Construction is booming. Up to now, it's been based at 1455 Congress St. in the Rosemont neighborhood of Portland, but needed more space for vehicles and equipment.

Drice, who moved from Haiti to Maine for college in 2002, learned the trade from his father, a contractor. Drice took on small jobs while in college and in 2004 launched Tito Masonry and Construction. Today, it has 14 to 17 employees and does work in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

In Portland, it did masonry work, either as subcontractor or contractor, on the Aura event venue, Lincoln Park, the historic U.S. Custom House and the parking garage at the jetport. In West Bath, the company did work on the district courthouse.

"With my business growing at this level, I felt like we needed a bigger place, where I can actually expand," Drice said.

Drice owns the neighboring buildings on each side of 1455 Congress, renting out apartments. He said he wanted to maintain the residential feel of that neighborhood, so was reluctant to stow industrial gear there. Fortunately, he's had enough work that he simply moves equipment from one job to the next.

With the acquisition of 188 Presumpscot, which is next to the FedEx Freight site, he has enough acreage to build a warehouse for equipment storage and repairs.

"I bought it mostly for the land, for my trucks and equipment," he said. "We have a lot of scaffolding, four trucks, forklifts, hand tool trailers. We have more room to turn around."

For now, he'll move his headquarters into the current structure at 188 Presumpscot. The building is in good shape and needs little in the way of investment, he said. While there, he'll look into obtaining a city permit to build the warehouse. He'll retain 1455 Congress for residential rentals.

A site with a legacy of business growth

Courtesy / Ocean’s Balance
Courtesy / Ocean’s Balance
Ocean’s Balance’s three principals are co-founders Mitch Lench and Tollef Olson, and Lisa Scali, director of marketing and sales.

Seller Tollef Olson is a former commercial fisherman, captain of international marine salvage expeditions and seafood restaurant owner.

Olson entered the aquaculture field in 1994, and founded Aqua Farms LLC in 1998 to cultivate rope-grown mussels under the name Bangs Island Mussels. He later founded Ocean Approved and co-founded Ocean's Balance Inc., whose primary product is a kelp puree sold in specialty food stores like Lois's Natural Marketplace and Royal River Natural Foods. He's a senior advisor at the Macroalgae Nursery and Research Cluster in the University of New England's Center for Excellence in the Marine Sciences.

It was while running Aqua Farms that Olson purchased the Presumpscot Street property, where he founded the two other companies. "I had three distinct products at that little location," he said. "The company outgrew it. It was a great owner-operator space."

Reached by phone while heading out to look at a larger property, he said Ocean's Balance is currently operating in a rental.

Ocean's Balance is a young endeavor, opening in June 2016 with a product launch in January. The shelf-stable puree is designed to make it easy for consumers to use sea vegetables in their dishes.

"You don't have to change the way you cook to get the umami flavor pop and the nutrient benefit," he said.

The product is gaining traction. Already, orders are coming from New England, New York, Pennsylvania and California. He's picked up New Hampshire distributor Associated Buyers as well as distributors in New York. He's expecting to pick up a West Coast distributor in California. The company's staff of three handles harvesting and initial processing, which involves taking seaweed down to puree form in preparation for co-packing.

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