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Updated: June 26, 2023 On the record

On the Record: Tom Ruff aims to drive purpose at Orange Bike Brewing

Photo / Jim Neuger Tom Ruff plans to launch Orange Bike Brewing, based in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood, this September.

Entrepreneur and cycling enthusiast Tom Ruff shifted gears from medical recruiting to gluten-free brewing, with plans to launch Orange Bike Brewing in Portland later this year. With construction still in progress at 31 Diamond St. in Portland, he gave Mainebiz the lowdown.

Mainebiz: What inspired you to start a gluten-free brewery?

Tom Ruff: Two years ago, I started having major health issues; inflammation, arthritis, stomach issues, joint pain, and even swollen eyelids. After being tested for many things, it turns out it was the gluten. At age 56, gluten and I no longer get along. Sensing demand and market opportunity and, at the same time, dismayed by the social divisions, environmental destruction and unrest sweeping the world — I wanted to do my part. I felt like a coward and a hypocrite. I sold my medical recruiting company I started 32 years ago and turned my energies full-time toward launching Orange Bike Brewing — a purpose-driven brewery focused on a triple bottom line.

MB: And the orange bike that inspired the name of the business?

TR: When COVID hit, I took a year sabbatical from my medical company to be a full-time stay-at-home father to my now six-year-old daughter, Lula. Being relatively new to Maine, wanting to explore it, and thinking of a way to spend time outdoors on our daily adventures, I decided to buy an e-bike, an orange RadWagon Cargo Bike. I put a custom Thule seat on the back, and we spent that year exploring the streets and parks of Maine. It was one of the best years of my life. The name honors my daughter and her future aspiration for a broader community grounded in a more humane, healthy and sustainable way of life. Over 4,000 miles later, I’m still a year-round commuter, and we have avoided buying a second car, thanks to my trusty orange bike.

MB: What is the market potential of this new niche?

TR: I am not alone — 44 million Americans suffer from undiagnosed gluten sensitivity, gluten allergies or Celiac disease, and over 30% of American households are gluten-free or trying to reduce gluten consumption. The gluten-free beer segment is currently growing at 14%. This is a $3 billion opportunity in the Northeast alone, with 59 million prospective gluten-free consumers. The traditional craft sector has been down the previous two years and was down 4.8% in 2022.

MB: When do you expect to launch, and where will you distribute initially?

TR: We have a targeted opening date of September 2023. We plan to distribute locally first. Once our foothold is established in Maine, we plan to expand to the entire Northeast.

MB The U.S. brewing industry is not exactly known for being inclusive. What’s your plan to help change that, at least in Maine?

TR: Two years ago, Brienne Allan, the head brewer at Notch Brewing in Salem, Mass., at the time, and now the co-owner and head brewer for Sacred Profane Brewing in Biddeford, posed a question on Instagram as to how many women in the craft beer industry have had sexist remarks made against them. Her Instagram exploded with stories of not just sexism, harassment and misogyny, but also racism, abuse, and toxic ownership and workplaces within the beer industry. The beginning of the ‘me too’ movement within craft beer was born. This happened five days after I decided to start Orange Bike Brewing. It was a pivotal moment for me. As the father of a young daughter, all I could think of was her future as I sat on the Eastern Promenade, reading all of the allegations. At that moment, I decided that Orange Bike would be a purpose-driven brewery, and we would use our brewery as a platform to amplify the voices of folks affected, as well as women and other underrepresented groups.

Orange Bike Brewing is defined by its commitment to positively impacting the local community, welcoming Maine’s rich diversity of people in a spirit of hospitality, inclusivity, dignity and friendship, and expanding the potential for meaningful new jobs for Mainers. We have also started the process to become a certified B Corp, which requires meeting high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. We recently graduated from the B Impact Clinic at the University of New Hampshire and have furthered our progress to become B Corp-certified.

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July 18, 2023

Excited for Orange Bike Brewing to join the B Corp community. Especially so given its commitment to making the craft brew and outdoor spaces more equitable. Nothing brings people together better than good beer and good fun.

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