March 4, 2010

Food cooperative to open cafe in former dormitory

ANN S

— By . KIM

click image to enlarge

Staff Photo by John Patriquin, Tuesday, February 7, 2006: USM's Portland Hall on Congrss st. in Portland.

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The Local Sprouts Cooperative is lined up as the first retail tenant at 645 Congress St., the former site of a University of Southern Maine dormitory.

The cooperative expects to open its Local Sprouts Cafe on the first floor of the building in February or March, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with an emphasis on local and organic foods.

''We want it to be a fun space, a really vibrant space for the community,'' said Jonah Fertig, one of the cooperative's founders and worker-owners.

The cafe will occupy what once was cafeteria space in USM's Portland Hall. Bayside Maine LLC is turning the property into a 56-unit apartment building with about 9,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.

''This part of Congress Street hasn't really had a lot of people going into retail spaces, so having Local Sprouts as our first tenant is really exciting,'' said Justin Alfond, a partner in Bayside Maine with Greg Shinberg.

Local Sprouts will be a community-supported venture in which members will pre-pay for their food and get discounts, such as from a farm that sells shares of its harvest in advance.

The cafe is also meant to be a community hub. It will be open to the public and serve as a venue for entertainment and workshops, and as a hands-on classroom for people who want to learn about food, cooking and the restaurant business.

The Local Sprouts Cafe will occupy about 3,000 square feet in the former dormitory.

Bayside Maine is looking for one or two more ground-floor tenants that could fill other retail gaps in the area, such as basic clothing and green home products, said Alfond, who is a state senator representing Portland. Shinberg owns a real estate consulting business.

Applications are being taken for the studio and one-bedroom apartments. Rents range from $650 to $1,200 a month. Five units are set aside as affordable housing, for tenants whose income doesn't exceed 80 percent of the area's median income.

Fertig said he hopes the apartment tenants will make good use of the cafe. He said a meal plan is in the works.

''We want this to be a place where the tenants could feel 'I might be able to go there every day' -- an extension of their kitchen or living room,'' Fertig said, noting that there will be a back elevator and entrance to the cafe. ''They don't even have to change out of their PJs, if they want.''

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

akim@pressherald.com

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