A composite image of the interior of 50 Cleveland St. in Bangor, a city-owned building that formerly housed the Dow Air Force Base officers’ club. The city plans to transform it into a shared-use commercial kitchen. Credit: Courtesy of city of Bangor

Bangor is reigniting a plan to create a shared commercial kitchen similar to one in Portland that would give small businesses space and equipment to establish and grow without having to make expensive capital investments.

The shared commercial kitchen space, which the city hopes to establish at 50 Cleveland St., could ultimately lead to local economic development, job creation, support for local farms and foster more Maine-made products, said Steve Bolduc, Bangor’s economic development officer.

“The lack of facilities is the barrier to growth, so getting rid of that obstacle by creating a central kitchen would be an important public investment to support not only food but entrepreneurship as well and accelerate economic development as well,” Bolduc said.

Maine only has one of the nation’s 600 or so shared kitchen spaces, according to The Food Corridor. The Fork Food Lab in Portland is credited with helping many food businesses in that city. Increasing local food production and consumption is a priority of a state climate plan that aims to triple the share of food consumed in Maine from in-state food producers by 2030.

The Bangor idea has been kicked around for more than a decade. In March 2022, the city received more than $1 million in congressionally directed funds for the project, though that money hasn’t yet been used. Bangor economic development staff brought the idea to the city council’s economic development committee at a meeting April 18.

Councilors and staff agreed to pursue getting an updated design and cost estimate to help determine how much more funding is needed. In the meantime, Councilor Jonathan Sprague said the city needs to create a plan for the kitchen and determine whether it will function as a kitchen incubator or a shared kitchen.

A shared kitchen functions only as a co-working space for food production, whereas a kitchen incubator helps businesses with food packaging and offers marketing and financial guidance in addition to providing a space to make the food.

Bangor plans to build the shared kitchen in the city-owned building near the Bangor International Airport. The 19,000-square-foot, single-story building was once the officers’ club for Dow Air Force Base and previously hosted a winter farmers market.

“The dividends we’d get back on our investment would be huge not just economically but culturally,” Councilor Gretchen Schaefer said last week.

The building will need to be renovated to meet food quality standards and outfitted with commercial appliances and equipment. The building also needs sprinkler and air conditioning systems installed and repairs to the exterior, among other work, Bolduc said. A previous design estimate from several years ago put the total construction cost at about $4 million.

Since opening in 2016, Fork Food Lab in Portland has helped start more than 70 restaurants, food trucks, catering businesses and food product companies. Fork Food Lab’s list of alumni includes The Highroller Lobster Company, Falafel Mafia and Cape Whoopies.  

A shared kitchen in Bangor, filled with local entrepreneurs focused on making food with locally sourced ingredients will support Maine farms and fisheries, create jobs and stimulate the local economy, said Corinne Tompkins, Fork Food Lab’s general manager.

“Over time, the city of Bangor will have a central location of edible diversity, and we hope that everyone welcomes the new kitchen with open arms,” she said.  

Alyson Mayo of Augusta said she would love for Bangor to create a commercial kitchen space. She has been looking for a commercial kitchen for her small vegan and gluten-free dessert company for nearly a decade.

Since starting her brand, Gert and Lil’s LLC, in 2014, Mayo nearly moved into commercial kitchens in Belfast and Keene, New Hampshire, but they closed before she could move in. Mayo joined Fork Food Lab shortly after it opened in 2016, but she said she left because the business’ early management style “wasn’t the kind of environment I wanted to be in.”

She then began using a commercial kitchen that was in another business, but the schedule was uncertain, she needed to bring in all her own equipment and ingredients, and everything in the kitchen had to be double-cleaned to ensure no gluten got into her products, she said.

Mayo put her business on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic to redevelop her products to make them shelf-stable, then licensed her own home kitchen. She began selling commercially in March. But she hopes to expand soon and will be looking for a new commercial kitchen.

“I’d love to see something like this in Bangor,” Mayo said. “Portland has so many things, so it’d be nice to have this in Bangor and have new companies starting in Bangor.”

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Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...