We gained some, we misplaced some. We ate lots of vegan ice cream. Maine’s vegan and vegetarian restaurant scene throughout 2022 was characterised by highs and lows – thrilling new vegan eating places opened (exterior of Portland) and two decades-long vegetarian restaurant stalwarts closed (additionally exterior Portland).
The arrival of the month of Veganuary, when tons of of 1000’s from across the globe take part within the on-line vegan way of life problem, presents an acceptable time to pause and mirror on the present state of Maine’s plant-forward eating scene.
Final yr’s most vital information was the opening of three vegetarian eating places: Curbside Comforts in Gorham, S+P Social in Newcastle and Vickie’s Veggie Desk in Biddeford. Nonetheless, we misplaced Chase’s Every day in Belfast (which opened in 2000), Style of Eden in Norway (which opened in 2002 at its unique location in Bethel), and the state’s first worldwide vegan franchise, Copper Department, which opened in Portland in late 2019, simply months earlier than the pandemic lockdown. Its closure displays a modified industrial panorama within the metropolis.
After Copper Department went darkish within the fall, native franchise proprietor Chris Hooper, of Cape Elizabeth, instructed me by way of e mail that the choice was prompted by the lack of downtown workplace staff in the course of the pandemic.
I reside inside strolling distance of Copper Department’s former house in Canal Plaza and may verify the dramatic change. I ate lunch at Copper Department twice in the course of the March 2020 week resulting in the lockdown orders. Each occasions the vegan restaurant was standing room-only and stuffed with workplace staff, which Hooper characterised as “a core goal market.” These staff now go to their workplaces a couple of times every week, if in any respect. I by no means noticed Copper Department full once more after the pandemic hit.
Simply across the nook on Change Avenue, the vegetarian tea room Dobra Tea introduced on the finish of December that its Outdated Port retailer was closing, tea gross sales had been shifting on-line, and the homeowners hoped to discover a extra inexpensive retail house.
Ellen Kanner, who owns Dobra Tea with Ray Marcotte, stated the evaporation of downtown workplace staff performed a significant function of their resolution to shut the Outdated Port store. Because the pandemic, the store has survived serving “weekenders and vacationers,” together with a core group of standard prospects. However it isn’t sufficient enterprise to cowl the price of an Outdated Port hire. In line with Kanner, wages have doubled for the reason that store opened in 2010 (at its first location on Center Avenue), and a cup of chai tea that value $3.50 then now prices $10 with the addition of chaga, hemp flowers or Oatly milk.
Kanner stated they’re wanting in Portland “and past” for a small store the place they will promote tea and host tastings.
At Vickie’s Veggie Desk in Biddeford, proprietor Vickie Charity-McGuirk says the winter months are difficult however stories the cafe is gaining new prospects, and with them comes elevated optimism concerning the coming yr.
“We’re assured this spring and summer time will increase our enterprise to the place it must be for us to succeed,” Charity-McGuirk instructed me. “We now have changed one among our summer time juices with a brand new juice known as Foremost Avenue Beet. We added an autumn beet salad and two sizzling sandwiches on focaccia bread, a breakfast panini with Inconceivable sausage, tofu egg, house-made mozzarella and crimson sizzling pepper jelly, and a Caprese panini with house-made mozzarella and pesto.”
The salad and each sandwiches are vegan. Vickie’s Veggie Desk makes use of focaccia made by Little Spruce Bakery, additionally in Biddeford. The restaurant lately began an open mic evening with a menu of vegan pizza and vegan cake paired with beer and wine. The following open mic evening takes place on Feb. 26, and afterwards the occasion will happen the final Sunday of every month from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Over in Gorham on the take-out spot Curbside Comforts, the hours have expanded, however the staffing and features of consumers have shrunk from the busy summer time season. Nonetheless, it’s attracting new prospects with a latest transfer to open at 7 a.m. promoting espresso and grab-and-go breakfast objects, equivalent to bagels and cream cheese on weekdays and pancake sausage sticks on the weekends. Even with the arrival of chilly climate, Curbside Comforts prospects nonetheless order vegan ice cream, together with a vacation nog taste and a sweet cane chaos milkshake.
“We additionally proceed to supply Two for $20 Thursdays and a weekly particular,” proprietor Suzanne Dawson instructed me.
After filling vacation pre-orders, S+P Social in Newcastle closed for the season, and its homeowners, Shelby Fake and Payson Cunningham, hit the street to spend the winter visiting vegan eating places and accumulating menu concepts in New York Metropolis, Florida and Argentina. The vegan restaurant and wedding ceremony venue will reopen within the spring.
The previous yr additionally noticed quite a lot of vegetarian eating places that opened in 2021 proceed to achieve their stride and prospects, together with Toast in Kittery, Boja’s Bungalow in Greenville and Gatherings 4 Foremost in Dexter.
Boja’s Bungalow is closed for the season, whereas Gatherings 4 Foremost continues to serve vegan and vegetarian lunches and host occasional particular occasions. Toast is open Friday via Sunday, providing its gluten-free sourdough breads together with a menu of candy and savory artisan toasts.
Exterior Maine’s small cadre of vegetarian eating places, vegan choices have elevated and improved on the majority of non-vegetarian eating places in Maine, in accordance with Jennifer Dubay of Portland, who organizes restaurant outings for vegans.
“I’d say 80 p.c of eating places have good vegan choices,” stated Dubay. “Most have one thing, however 80 p.c have actually good choices. It was once about 50 p.c, however up to now three to 5 years, it exploded.”
Her observations are backed up by a latest information evaluation that discovered the variety of plant-based dishes on restaurant menus within the U.S. elevated an astonishing 2,800 p.c since 2018. The quantity crunching was finished by analysis firm Dataessential, which used an algorithm to trace the looks of plant-based dishes on menus. It famous that significantly standard menu objects embrace Inconceivable burgers, oat milk, cauliflower wings and cauliflower tacos.
Dubay stated the Maine eating places that don’t provide top quality plant-based fare on their menus are typically “the extra touristy traps” and “the overly priced locations that cater to essentially wealthy individuals.”
Within the fall, Dubay created the Vegan Maine Meetup Group, which is internet hosting common in-person get-togethers. A number of Meetup teams with comparable names function in Portland, however the one vegan one presently doing in-person restaurant meetups is Dubay’s new group, which you could find at meetup.com.
On Sunday, Dubay’s Meetup group was planning to collect within the Outdated Port at Three Greenback Dewey’s, which presents an in depth vegan pub menu, and on Jan. 28, the group will descend on Nura in Monument Sq., which began as an all-vegetarian restaurant serving the identical workplace lunch crowds that now not exist in Portland (and have been considerably changed by building staff constructing condos and residence buildings) and continues to supply its signature vegan falafel pitas, hummus bowls and shawarma fries together with animal-based meat. There isn’t any value (aside from the worth of dinner) to take part in both Meetup, however these wishing to attend should register on-line.
Along with the disappearance of the Portland lunch crowd, one other potential menace is looming over Maine’s vegetarian eating places and meals companies: a invoice within the state Legislature seeking to punish Whole Foods for following its moral buying requirements and dropping the sale of Maine lobster. The proposed laws would deny tax breaks to any Maine firm utilizing third-party certifications to justify not promoting Maine-made items, as most vegan eating places do after they depend on third-party certifications indicating whether or not a meals is freed from animal merchandise.
Maine companies trying to promote vegan meals that fail to depend on third-party certifications can discover themselves going through the potential authorized threat of allergic reactions and the necessity to apologize to prospects, as a Gray scoop shop was forced to do in 2021 after it marketed vegan delicate serve after which later found the product, which didn’t carry a third-party vegan certification, contained cow’s milk.
Political watchers say the anti-Complete Meals invoice has as a lot probability of surviving the legislative session as, properly, a lobster in a pot of boiling water. Nonetheless, the idea of penalizing Maine companies for moral buying requirements and using third-party certifications is harmful to residents with allergic reactions, a menace to the state’s rising well being meals trade, and targets Maine vegans and vegetarians by trying to punish the companies catering to them. It additionally sends a chilling message to Maine companies that dare to inject ethics into American capitalism.
However as we’ve seen, 2022 supplied excess of lobster struggling. This previous yr additionally noticed Maine’s best-known vegetarian restaurant, the Inexperienced Elephant in Portland, celebrate 15 years in business; the variety of ice cream parlors promoting vegan flavors expanded; juice retailers slinging smoothies seeped into all corners of the state; and vegan doughnut demand, as at all times, continued to be better than provide (with She Doesn’t Like Guthries in Lewiston one of many newest spots making vegan doughnuts). With the intense skies of 2023 and a complete month of Veganuary forward of us, all indicators level to extra vegan restaurant meals, extra vegan doughnuts and extra vegan ice cream as the brand new yr unfolds.
Avery Yale Kamila is a meals author who lives in Portland. She will be reached at: [email protected].
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