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April 8, 2019

Vegan eatery planned for downtown Portland circular building

Photo / Renee Cordes Chris and Melissa Hooper standing outside the Portland building they plan to turn into a Copper Branch vegan franchise at 1 Canal Plaza. They aim to open by September.

The glass circular building at 1 Canal Plaza in downtown Portland is to be transformed into an all-day vegan eatery serving power bowls and other healthy dishes.

Chris and Melissa Hooper, husband-and-wife entrepreneurs who will become the building’s first tenants after signing a lease, told Mainebiz they’re targeting a September opening — possibly sooner — for the business.

Originally from Canada and now living in Cape Elizabeth, the couple will be franchisees for Copper Branch, a fast-growing Montreal-based chain that specializes in “100% plant-based power food” from avocado toast and other all-day breakfast fare to power smoothies and poutine with cremini mushroom sauce, a vegan take on a Quebec classic.

The Hoopers, parents of four children turning 14, 12, 10 and 7 this year, have been vegans themselves for about a decade.

They discovered Copper Branch as customers during a visit to Montreal, then returned on their next visit and were intrigued by the store, the food and the approach to healthy and sustainable foods.

“From those experiences,” said Chris Hooper, “we began our research and due diligence on the company, their business model and with other franchisees. The combination of the offering and the business opportunity led us to buying the franchise rights [for Maine and Portsmouth, N.H.] and start out in Portland.”

The Portland location on Canal Plaza is a 1,350-square-foot facility with outdoor plaza seating.

Their plan is to open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, sourcing everything locally, including coffee and beer. They also plan to offer catering services.

Chris Hooper describes Copper Branch as a “quick-service model” with a core menu that franchisees can add to with local offerings, and says the aim is to appeal to all health-conscious customers, not just those who eat only vegan.

“It’s healthy food that tastes good,” he said, adding that the all-in lunch price will run about $12 to $15.

Melissa Hooper said that while it’s nice to have the support of the Copper Branch franchise for the business, “they really work with us to make it our own and be part of the community.”

The building’s downtown location and outdoor seating, were key selling points for the couple, who are still working out the interior design with their architects.

'Bringing the area alive'

Mainebiz detailed the construction of the round building and its innovative roof system.

East Brown Cow Management Inc. manages the property, along with buildings at No. 2 and 3 Canal Plaza.

Tim Soley, the company’s president and owner, told Mainebiz last week that viewed from above, the three-axis site resembles a guitar pick, in an area he considers to be the central geographic point of downtown Portland.

While half a dozen offers had come in for the round structure he calls “a sculpture that happens to be a building,” he says they weren’t the right fit like Copper Branch is.

“I need someone not only open from morning until evening, but friendly and alluring, to help bring the area alive,” he said. “I also needed something really 'of the moment,' with the right energy and high volume.”

Peter Harrington of Maine Commercial Brokers, which represents East Brown Cow Management, has equally high expectations of the new tenants coming to 1 Canal Plaza.

“They don’t come across as just a franchise,” he said. “They’re just local people.”

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