Fork Food Lab, an incubator for food-focused startups in Portland, is one step closer to reality.
Co-founders Neil Spillane and Eric Holstein last week officially acquired a building in Portland’s West Bayside neighborhood (72 Parris St.) that will house the incubator and collaborative commercial kitchen. Spillane, former CEO of Portland’s Urban Farm Fermentory, tells Maine Startups Insider that Fork is already actively signing up members and will be ready for a soft open in July.
While that’s still four months away, Fork is already well on its way to making its business model work. It already has signed letters of intent from 30 food startups that want to utilize the space, which will also include a tasting room where member companies will have the ability to sell and test food creations on the public. Given Fork’s capacity will be 45 companies, Spillane is confident the incubator space will be full by opening day.
Member companies have two membership tiers to choose from: part-time, which offers limited hours of access, and full-time, which offers access 24-7-365. Food startups signing membership agreements in the near term are getting a $400-a-month rate for part-time and $700-a-month rate for full-time, Spillane said, though those prices will increase to $500/$800 before Fork officially opens. Member companies will have access to the shared work space, cold and dry storage, commercial kitchen and tasting room. There’ll also be access to mentors and classes. Eventually, Fork plans to develop ancillary distribution and catering businesses, as well, which will bring business to member companies through wedding and corporate events opportunities and distributing their products to shelves across Maine.
“The time and cost for these food entrepreneurs to get a truck, pitch a retailer, and bring them the product every week is a major roadblock to growth,” Spillane said. “At the end of the day, we will make it so that anyone with a passion and a recipe can start and grow a food business.”
Down the road, Fork could have a second building with larger spaces for companies that grow too big for the initial incubator space, he said.
Spillane and Holstein are not creating a business model from scratch. Fork will be closely modeled after Union Kitchen in Washington, D.C., which in three years has generated more than 350 jobs and launched over 100 food businesses. Union itself employs 40 people and its active and alumni members generated $28 million in sales last year, Spillane said.
In as foodie a town as Portland, Spillane expects Fork won’t have a problem gaining traction in the community, despite its location in a run-down neighborhood with relatively low foot traffic.
As CEO of Urban Farm Fermentory, Spillane watched firsthand the revitalization of the East Bayside neighborhood as numerous breweries and roasteries opened up shop in its former industrial buildings. He thinks West Bayside has even more potential for positive rebirth because there are more residential properties interwoven in the neighborhood and it’s more centrally located on the peninsula.
“Anyone that has lived in Portland knows that it is a foodie town and food is ingrained in our culture,” he said. “I think the community will support this endeavor with open arms and warm hearts.”
Take a walk through the envisioned space: