Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Scarborough opened more than 20 years ago and the loyal customer base the store has created since then has allowed owners Lois and Dan Porta to fulfill a long-held dream of opening a second location in downtown Portland.

The newly opened Portland store, which is about half the size of the Scarborough store, is located at 47 India St., near the Portland Food Coop, the Rosemont Market & Bakery on Munjoy Hill and Micucci Grocery.

Even so, the Portas say each business has its own niche and being clustered nearby only means more foot traffic and a broader customer base for everyone.

“I am happy we’re all here,” Lois Porta said. “Personally and professionally it’s important to me to be part of a community.”

The Portas said where they differ from some of the other local businesses that also focus on local, fresh produce, is that all the products at Lois’ Natural are organic and all the prepared foods are handmade using all-organic produce.

“We all sell food, but we each have a different mission and a different purpose,” Dan Porta said. “A city the size of Portland needs all these businesses.”

And, Lois Porta said, “Our mission since Day 1 has been to provide the best, highest quality ingredients and options so people can choose what they put on their dinner plate.”

The Portas first came to Maine more than 30 years ago and said their original goal was to open an organic food market in Portland, but they found that “Scarborough really needed a store like ours and we were an instant hit,” Dan Porta said.

For the past six to seven years the couple spent part of their time seriously looking for an optimal second location in Portland, with Dan Porta saying, “Portland has grown so much and there is a need for diversity.”

The Portas finally found what they were looking for on India Street and in February 2014 they leased a storefront that provides easy pedestrian and bicycle access from Commercial Street, Munjoy Hill and the east end of Congress Street.

“We put the logo in the window, so the neighborhood knew we were coming,” Dan Porta said. He said the reaction since the store opened in mid-May has been great.

“Our goal,” he said, “is to settle quietly into the neighborhood and respond to the needs of our customers, like installing a bike rack.”

Porta said there’s a big difference between the Scarborough and Portland stores, with the Scarborough location catering to the suburban market, while the Portland store caters to more urban-based customers.

The Portas said their staff is “fully integrated” between the two stores, with many employees spending their week working at both locations.

“One of our managers lives on Munjoy Hill and is now able to walk to work,” Dan Porta said. What is also great, he added, is that she “knows everyone in the neighborhood.”

Lois Porta said she and her husband have been eating in a health-conscious way since college, but at that time they were on the “fringe of the fringe.” Now more people are careful about their food choices and are looking for organic options.

She said eating organic and sourcing produce from local farms is a way for people to ensure “better health for themselves and for the planet.”

Porta said, “We are supporting organic agriculture and providing the cleanest, freshest, most local (food options). We are really trying to leave the planet better than we found it. This is not just a business, this is our way of life.”

She added that the couple’s fondest wish is to be “a meeting point, a nexus between our customers and the farmers.”

When the Portas originally opened their Scarborough store, the couple said there were “very few options,” but now there are so many more organic farms and the farms grow produce all year long, either out in the fields or in a greenhouse.

While the change is “very exciting,” Lois Porta also said in some ways sourcing takes as much time as it did in the old days, because the couple has to ensure that all of its suppliers are providing truly organic produce.

That means no artificial ingredients, colorings or preservatives or genetically modified ingredients or added trans fats are found in any of the products offered at Lois’.

In addition to raw produce, Lois’ Natural also makes soups, sandwiches and smoothies, all made with free-range meats and organic vegetables.

The Portas said that while eating organic, whole foods has become more accepted, people often don’t turn to this way of eating until they have children or experience a health crisis of some kind.

“What they find is that when they start eating this way they feel so much better,” Lois Porta said, adding, “we just want to empower people to eat the way they want.”

Lois and Dan Porta founded Lois’ Natural Marketplace, which sells organic foods and products, in Scarborough in 1993. The couple has recently opened a second store in downtown Portland.The original Lois’ Natural store is located on Route 1 in Scarborough. The company’s mission is to provide organic foods and other natural products to the local community. Staff photos by Kate Irish Collins

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