Mainers among finalists for Beard awards
Mike Wiley and Andrew Taylor, chef/co-owners of three Portland restaurants, and Rob Tod, founder of Allagash Brewing Co., have been named finalists for prestigious James Beard Awards. Wiley and Taylor, who along with manager Arlin Smith own Eventide Oyster Co., The Honey Paw and Hugo’s, are competing in the category of Best Chef: Northeast. This is the third nomination for the chefs, who were also finalists last year. Best Chef nominees, according to the James Beard Foundation, have worked as chefs for at least five years and “have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions.” Tod is a finalist in the Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional category. Nominees in this category are professionals who have “made a significant national impact on the restaurant industry.” The James Beard Awards, often called the Oscars of the food world, will be presented at a ceremony May 1 in Chicago. Read the story.
Portland restaurant closes after six months
Portland Meatball Co. on Exchange Street has closed, according to the local food blog Portland Food Map. The closure was not noted on the restaurant’s website or Facebook page. A phone call went to the restaurant’s voicemail, but it would not be unusual to get no answer because the business has always been closed on Mondays. The restaurant, which opened in October, was owned by Noah and Dan Talmatch, who also own Timber Steakhouse and Rotisserie next door. Read the story.
BANKING & FINANCING
Farmers’ credit union gets backing
A Maine-based project to create a new credit union for farmers and food entrepreneurs has reached an important milestone with the formation of an expert panel that includes one member with a famous grandfather who helped create the modern credit union system. On March 6, Maine Harvest Credit Project hosted its “organizer event,” a critical part of obtaining a charter and achieving recognition as Maine’s 59th credit union. State and federal law requires a new credit union to form a group of organizers to review and adopt its by-laws and appoint the first board of directors. Maine Harvest has recruited 15 organizers, including Goodwill Industries of Northern New England’s president and CEO, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, whose grandfather Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration was responsible for passing the Federal Credit Union Act of 1934. The act created the Bureau of Federal Credit Unions to charter and regulate federal credit unions. The bureau was replaced in 1970 with the current National Credit Union Administration. Maine Harvest’s goal is to establish a credit union that its backers believe would fill a gap in available financing for the state’s food producers by offering land-backed mortgages in the $100,000 to $400,000 range, small-business loans of $60,000 to $125,000 and equipment loans of $20,000 to $40,000. Read the story.
Fed raises interest rates
The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points on Wednesday, launching into what is expected to be a more rapid series of increases that is intended to ward off inflation but will also raise costs for Americans who borrow money to finance mortgages, auto loans and credit card purchases. Fed officials voted to raise the central bank’s key interest rate for overnight lending by a quarter point, from a range of 0.5 percent to 0.75 percent to a range of 0.75 percent to 1.0 percent. Bank officials announced the decision Wednesday afternoon following a two-day policy meeting in Washington. The Fed has long planned on raising interest rates to a more normal level, after slashing them to nearly zero during the financial crisis and holding them at an ultra-low level for years to stimulate a sluggish economy. Read the story.
Bank seeks applications for pitch contest
Gorham Savings Bank is accepting applications for its fifth annual LaunchPad business competition, in which promising early-stage ventures in Maine compete for a $50,000 grant from the bank. The Gorham-based community bank said entrepreneurs, startups and established companies can enter via an online application at gorhamsavingsbank.com/launchpad, and that no formal business proposal or supporting documents are required. Five finalists will be invited to compete at a live pitch event on June 6 at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall in Portland, at which the winner will be announced. Read the story.
Party in Sunday River golf dispute buys club’s assets
Portland-based Newry Holdings LLC was the only bidder at an auction Wednesday to purchase equipment and other assets of Sunday River Golf Club in Newry amid a legal fight over the club’s ownership. A lawsuit is pending in Cumberland County Superior Court to determine whether Newry Holdings or Harris Golf Inc. of Bath is the club’s rightful owner. The award-winning, semiprivate golf course was built by Harris Golf, which has owned and operated the club since it opened in 2005. However, Newry Holdings took ownership of the property in January because it was the sole creditor on the property’s mortgage, and it said Harris Golf failed to make a required mortgage payment. Harris Golf said it was about to pay the mortgage in December but was pre-empted by Newry Holdings in violation of a forbearance agreement. Newry Holdings held an auction Wednesday for all of the equipment and other assets associated with the golf club, including the domain name sundayrivergolfclub.com. The company’s attorney, George Marcus, said that Newry Holdings was the sole bidder, and that it purchased the assets for $700,000. Marcus has said that the auction was a necessary legal step for his client to exercise its right of ownership to those assets. Read the story.
REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION
Bill seeks to streamline development process for apartment complexes
An organization that represents Maine real estate developers is lobbying the Legislature to pass a bill that would streamline the approval process for some apartment building projects in the state. It says the law as it exists today is redundant, slows down development and needlessly made Portland’s long-delayed “midtown” apartment project look bad while giving ammunition to its critics. The bill, L.D. 805, was introduced March 2 by Democratic Sen. Nathan Libby of Lewiston. It would eliminate the need for a separate subdivision review for apartment projects in municipalities such as Portland that already have a rigorous site plan review process. Under current law, such projects must undergo both forms of review. The bill’s primary backer, the Maine Real Estate & Development Association, said the redundancy in the site review process for apartment construction or conversion can slow down urban development projects without providing any tangible benefit. Read the story.
Wal-Mart distributes bonuses
Wal-Mart distributed bonuses to more than 4,000 Maine employees last week, payments that reflect strong fourth-quarter earnings for the mega retailer. The average Maine bonus amounted to $183.13, according to a news release from Wal-Mart. Bonuses were distributed to more than 850,000 Wal-Mart employees in the U.S. after the close of the fourth quarter, when the company reported revenues north of $130 billion and strong comparable sales. More than $157 million was awarded in the quarterly bonus, including $800,000 for Maine, destined for 4,414 employees. Wal-Mart is Maine’s third-largest private employer with more than 7,000 employees. The quarterly bonuses were awarded to employees who had been with the company for at least six months and, in the case of entry-level workers, completed the Pathways training program. Read the story.
Maine’s jobless rate dips to 3.5 percent
The January unemployment rate for Maine was the lowest since 2001. The Maine Department of Labor released January’s rate of 3.5 percent on Monday, down from 3.8 percent in December and one year ago, the lowest rate since March 2001. The number of unemployed was down 1,300 over the year to 24,300. Decreasing unemployment points to a tight labor market that for the past year has challenged businesses looking to hire workers. Read the story.