Spring has sprung in Maine and with it a fresh crop of buzzy vegan news: A vegan ice cream and hamburger shop is opening in Gorham. A vegan market is coming soon to Newcastle. A vegan food manufacturer has relocated from the New York suburbs to the western Maine foothills. A vegan scoop shop is ready to open in Freeport. And a new line of vegan macarons is being made in Fort Kent.
Before we get to those exciting details, this Tuesday, the veganish superstar Weird Al Yankovic comes to Portland’s Merrill Auditorium as part of The Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour. Concert-goers coming into town via Washington Avenue can snag a smoothie bowl at the city’s newest smoothie shop, Bay Bowls.
Elsewhere in smoothie news, the Winter 2022 edition of VegOut magazine highlighted Rockland’s all-vegan Earth Candy juice, smoothie and sandwich shop in a story about vegan restaurants that double as yoga studios.
After stopping production temporarily due to COVID-19 (and the demands of home schooling), The Whole Almond is once again producing fresh almond milk, which is sold at the Portland Food Coop, Royal River Natural Foods in Freeport and the Good Tern Coop in Rockland. In other Maine plant-based dairy news, Frinklepod Farm in Arundel recently purchased a soft serve machine and will be offering vegan ice cream at its outdoor Snagglebites cafe this summer, while Little Lad’s in Corinth is developing gluten-free, vegan ice cream sandwiches using its signature Nice Creme.
CURBSIDE COMFORTS MOVES TO GORHAM
The city of Portland’s plant-based loss is Gorham’s vegan gain. After Portland announced plans to shrink the food truck park on the Eastern Prom, the all-vegan Curbside Comforts truck overhauled its business plan. Curbside Comforts put its popular food trailer up for sale and leased a brick-and-mortar hamburger and ice cream shop at 680 Gray Rd. in Gorham, the former Sweet Life Ice Cream Shop, with plans to turn it vegan.
“The awesome part is that all of the ice cream equipment comes with the lease so we will be able to offer soft-serve again as well as shakes and sundaes,” owner Suzanne Grace said when I reached her by phone. Last year was Curbside Comforts first season on the road, and while its soft serve machine was popular with customers the high temperatures in the truck prevented it from working properly. Grace and her family-based team should have more success with the machine in the new air-conditioned space. The restaurant, which is take-out only, will offer outdoor picnic table seating.
“We plan to have the same food menu as we did on the food truck and will have the ability to expand and offer regular specials,” Grace said of the truck’s core menu of vegan hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and mac and cheese. Initially, Curbside Comforts will be open for lunch and dinner, but she plans to expand its hours and add salads, a children’s menu, and a breakfast menu featuring plant-based sandwiches, burritos, hash browns and espresso.
The business is installing new kitchen equipment while working to secure licenses and permits, which Grace has heard from inspectors could be delayed by the state’s growing backlog of food license applications. The opening date depends on that, but Grace is hoping by the end of the month.
NEWCASTLE NETS SALT + PEPPER SOCIAL
Caterer S+P Foods has leased the storefront at 67 Main St. in Newcastle, where next month it intends to open a three-day-a-week vegan market and takeout shop called Salt + Pepper Social. The vegan company, which most recently operated from Fork Food Lab in Portland, wowed customers all last year with take-out meals and pop-up dinners featuring dishes such as sweet potato burgers, chick’n and waffles, spring pot pies, blueberry lemon Scones, brown butter rosemary cookies and many other tasty, plant-based creations.
Sisters-in-law Shelby Faux and Payson Cunningham, who grew up in the Newcastle-Damariscotta area, launched the business in 2020 with a series of private, plant-based dinners in Round Pond. The move to Portland proved the widespread appeal of the duo’s cooking and allowed S+P to graduate from the business incubator to its own location.
“We’re opening a dedicated commercial kitchen for our catering business,” Cunningham told me when the three of us talked by phone. “One side of the front of the building will be our market space. We’re going to have our frozen meals that we did for take-out in Portland, and also fresh stuff and products from other vegan makers.”
Behind the building and overlooking the river, a covered deck is under construction, which Salt + Pepper will rent for private events or use for its own pop-up dinners.
“We plan to have a lot of freshly baked goods, such as croissants, macarons, muffins, scones, quiche slices, cookies, cupcakes,” Faux said. The vegan charcuterie boards the company offered in Portland were a big hit, and the shop will stock make-your-own components for those. They are also considering selling salads and sandwiches for take-out.
Faux and Cunningham hope to open Salt + Pepper Social in June.
HEALING FOODS RELOCATES TO MAINE
Founded in 2011 in New York, the raw vegan food manufacturer Healing Home Foods relocated this past winter to Oxford, where it hired eight employees and is poised for growth. In New York, the company was bursting at the seams in a 4,000-square-foot commercial space. Now Healing Home Foods owns the 10,000 square foot industrial building at 17 Madison Ave. in Oxford, where it makes granolas, crackers, graham crackers, dehydrated nuts (a roasting alternative, in which the nut remains raw) and nut butters that have been featured in magazines including VegNews and Health.
“We were capacity constrained and had maxed out our production,” said owner Shelly Schulz, who grew up in Old Town and Cumberland before moving to New York for college. But last September, Schulz and her family relocated to Cumberland to be near family, and she moved the business to Oxford several months later.
“Running a business in New York is not terribly cost effective,” Schulz wrote in an email. “Since COVID, it was impossible to hire people. The rent was insane. We wanted to own our own facility.”
Schulz runs the business with her husband, John Schulz, both of whom used to work on Wall Street.
“We got very lucky as the owner of Rising Sun Bakery in South Paris, Sarah Chaput, recently sold her business and no longer wanted the crazy hours,” Schulz said. “So, she came on board to be our baker and a few of her employees followed.”
The Schulzes also have regular help from their two teenage children. Healing Home’s long-time chief financial officer works remotely from New York.
“For the granola, we soak and sprout the nuts, except for the Pnutty Chip,” Schulz said. “We grind the butter in-house as we make the granolas. We use Maine maple sugar and syrup in our products.”
Healing Home Foods’ top selling product is its Pizza Thins cracker. Look for it and other products at Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Scarborough, Royal River Natural Foods in Freeport, Rising Tide Coop in Damariscotta, Uncle Dean’s Natural Market in Waterville and online at healinghomefoods.com.
FREEPORT TO GET VEGAN SCOOP SHOT
When I reported last November that Veggie Life had moved to the former Mainely Custard complex in Freeport to make its wholesale line of veggie burgers and jackfruit chili, I wondered whether a vegan ice cream shop could be coming soon. Well, dear readers, our ice cream dreams have been answered and owner Jaime Shaw confirms that the scoop shop will be introducing Veggie Life’s new line of vegan ice cream flavors in both hard serve and soft serve. The scoop shop is scheduled to open today, between 1 and 4 pm
The previous owners left behind the ice cream machines, and after unexpected expenses this winter, Shaw and her business partners decided to reopen the scoop shop in order to generate some additional income.
“I’m going to have vegan vanilla and chocolate soft serve, oat-based, and a vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and coffee hard scoop, along with at least one or two specialty flavors per week,” such as lemon blueberry sugar cookie and rainbow chip birthday cake, she said. She’s also “really scouring the internet for vegan toppings”; Among those she has found are peanut butter cups, chocolate chip cookie dough, gummy bears, and marshmallow topping. Veggie Life is also making vegan hot fudge and caramel sauce.
For now, Shaw plans to keep the Mainely Custard name and sign. The ice cream shop will be open Thursday through Sunday until Memorial Day and, Shaw hopes, expand to seven days a week by July. Customers who order frozen Veggie Life burgers online can pick them up at the scoop shop window.
VEGAN MACARONS MADE IN FORT KENT
Former nurse Alyson Mcquade-Saucier was searching for a new career path when she discovered vegan macarons. She fell for the delicate sweets and decided to try making her own. Using chickpea cooking liquid (renamed aquafaba by vegans) in place of the traditional egg whites, Mcquade-Saucier began crafting colorful, plant-based versions of the classic French sweet.
With encouragement from friends, family and members of the Vegan Maine Facebook group, Mcquade-Saucier certified her home kitchen for commercial baking and last month she began selling her vegan macarons online by the dozen under the name Al’s Green Kitchen Macs.
“The interest seems to be bigger than I thought,” Mcquade-Saucier said in a telephone interview from her commercial kitchen in Fort Kent. “I have lots of ideas for monthly-type gift boxes that are holiday themed. I have a fixed menu and every month I plan to add new flavors, such as strawberry rhubarb for spring. In fall, it would be apple pie macs and pumpkin cheesecake macs. At Christmas time, peppermint and gingerbread.”
Regular flavors include vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, peanut butter, maple, lemon, pistachio, espresso and brownie, where chickpeas add heft to the chocolate-y, chunky filling. Some varieties feature a single flavor, while others hide a second flavor in the center of the vegan buttercream, such as chocolate macarons with a caramel center.
While most of the Al’s Green Kitchen recipes are gluten-free, Mcquade-Saucier has made a few batches with breakfast cereals so she advises those with celiac or severe allergies to avoid her products. An online ordering system is in the works, but for now, customers can buy a dozen macarons at County Roots in Presque Isle, email [email protected] or message Mcquade-Saucier through the Al’s Green Kitchen Macs Facebook page.
Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at [email protected]
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