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June 2, 2023

Fork Food Lab could become Maine's next craft brewer

Bill Seretta at Fork Food Lab construction site. Photo / Renee Cordes Bill Seretta, executive director of Fork Food Lab, is overseeing the buildout at 95-97 Darling Ave. in South Portland.
Relocation timeline 
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Fork Food Lab, the shared commercial kitchen and food startup incubator moving to South Portland later this month, is cooking up big plans for its new home that include brewing its own brand of beer.

A humming construction site with a table and wall full of plans that change every week, the enlarged Fork Food Lab at 95-97 Darling Ave. will include a brewing room scheduled to be completed this fall.

“I don’t see it as an impossibility that at some point we’re making our own beer, and we have a Fork Food Lab beer that we serve at our events – or kombucha, or cider, or whatever,” Executive Director Bill Seretta told Mainebiz during a hard-hat tour of the new facility.

"We're going to be doing more house brands of a lot of things, because we’ll have the production capacity to do that that, in addition to our members expanding their capacity.” he added.

Fork Food Lab is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. 

Recently, Fork Food Lab bought the 42,000-square-foot property, close to the new Preble Street Food Security Hub at 75 Darling Ave., in a long-delayed $5.9 million deal. Fork Food Lab made the purchase about a year and a half after inking a lease agreement, as reported by Mainebiz in October 2021.

WEX sign
Photo / Renee Cordes
A remnant of WEX's time on Darling Ave. was above the doorway when Mainebiz visited.

Fork Food’s new home, about eight times the size of the cramped space in Portland’s West Bayside neighborhood, consists of two single-story buildings formerly occupied by WEX Inc.

The move will take place in phases, starting with the relocation of 55 current members to the new facility at the end of June.

“Although construction is nearing competition on the main product, dry and cold storage space, there are still supply-chain issue delaying some equipment,” Seretta said.

As of Friday, around 30 stainless steel tables and sinks had arrived, along with a conveyer dishwasher, and a shipment of kitchen equipment from induction burners to carts. Shelving is due to arrive this week. Seretta said he expects to get more equipment towards the end of the month.

While a handful of members are already fermenting, including one making hot sauces, Seretta said the new space will enable more members to do the same. 

Fork Food Lab won't be able to brew beer from Day One, however.

"In order for us to sell beer or other alcoholic beverages we might brew will require Fork to obtain a license to manufacture and sell the product,” Seretta explained.

Besides rooms for events and retail sales, the new South Portland facility will include space to seat 40 diners for restaurant pop-ups so members can test concepts before opening a bricks-and-mortar establishment — "very intimate, not a big restaurant, so it's scalable," Seretta said during the walk-through.

Growth mode 

As the move to South Portland gets closer, Fork Food Lab General Manager Corinne Tompkins has been fielding queries and conducting tours for future and prospective members.

She told Mainebiz that 25 businesses will join the expanded Fork Food Lab between June and July, while 45 aspiring entrepreneurs are on a wait list.

"There are another 60-ish people that we have not had the chance to connect with yet due to being tied up in the move," she said.

Her advice to people looking to start food businesses and join Fork Food Lab one day is to review the organization’s member requirements online and get a food protection management certification.

After that, she suggests getting in touch with business support organizations such as SCORE Maine, Coastal Enterprises Inc., Small Business Development Centers, and the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs. 

Editor's note: Article updated to clarify that Fork Food Lab is a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

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