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May 24, 2017

Maine Food Insider: Lewiston's Forage Market plans Portland location

Photo / Lori Valigra Forage Market owner Allen Smith, who plans to spread the popularity of his Lewiston bagel shop to Portland early next year, starts baking around 4 a.m. Here, he checks and flips bagels over to assure they have a crisp outside that's not overbaked. It takes about 10 minutes to bake each paddle of bagels.

LEWISTON — Let the bagel wars begin. Forage Market in Lewiston, which soared to national attention when the October 2016 issue of Saveur magazine dubbed the store’s bagels some of the best in America, plans to open a store in Portland early next year.

It had planned to do so this summer, but the deal for the building it had hoped to lease on Commercial Street fell through. That delay, plus a permitting process store owner Allen Smith said could take the whole summer, is putting off the planned opening until early next year. He said he’s now in negotiations on another building, but wouldn’t disclose which Portland neighborhood it is in.

“We’re trying to find another location now,” Smith, owner of the five-year-old market at 180 Lisbon St., told Mainebiz. “We’d like a spot on the peninsula, ideally with a good neighborhood feel. We are looking for 3,000 to 4,000 square feet.”

Smith expects the Portland location, once it is built out with a wood-fired oven, will triple current revenues. He declined to discuss numbers except to say that revenue grew 30% last year and 20% this year.

The company has 12 full-time employees in Lewiston and 10 part-timers. The Portland location initially will employ 30, and that should edge up to 40, he said. A native of Cincinnati, Smith moved to Maine 20 years ago. Before opening the Lewiston store at 180 Lisbon St., he distributed apple cider to health food stores for seven years. He owns the building in Lewiston and would like to buy one in Portland, but said that’s unlikely with Portland’s high prices.

While the Lewiston store has more of a market feel to it, the Portland location will be more limited, making and serving bagels and sandwiches on the bread Forage makes. Smith also gets local cheese from a farmer and makes his own spreads for the bagels.

The bagels are straightforward and traditional: poppy, sesame, everything, salt and plain for about $1.50. Smith can’t make sweeter bagels like cinnamon raisin because his oven is too hot and would caramelize the raisins. He uses sourdough leaven to bake the bagels in a wood-fired oven that reaches temperatures up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit.

“But it’s because of the direct flame that we can’t make sweet bagels,” he said. He makes about 300 to 600 bagels a day, depending on demand, and plans to make quite a bit more in Portland, he said. The bagels in Lewiston often sell out in a few hours.

The title fight for 'best bagel'

Greater Portland prides itself on its bagels from well-known bakers like Scratch Baking Co. in South Portland, Union Bagel Co. in Portland, The Purple House in North Yarmouth that makes a Montreal-style sweet bagel, Maple’s in Yarmouth, 158 Pickett Street Cafe in South Portland, seaweed bagels at Southside Bakery in South Portland and Rosemont Market & Bakery in Portland.

Bagel-eating is serious business. Local bagel connoisseurs argue over their texture and taste the way craft beer aficionados argue over hoppiness and clarity. But will the current rich choice of bagels in greater Portland be able to withstand the newcomer from Lewiston?

Here’s what Saveur writer Matthew Kronsberg had to say about Forage bagels:

“Did these deserve to be near the top of any list of the best bagels in the country?” he wrote. “I think so, even if the use of sourdough and a wood burning oven would require an asterisk to be put on any purist’s list. If these were sold in New York, there would be lines around the block for them and Twitter wars over their legitimacy.”

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