A little more than a year ago, Heidi Powell took a big leap, opening her own food distribution business, Dirigo Wholesale, in the Greater Portland area. She caters to restaurants and small businesses that need smaller orders of fruits and vegetables than the bigger suppliers are willing to deliver. We called her up to talk and learned about the mentors who helped her, her connection to the Locker Project and some of the occasional hitchhikers she picks up. Like cupcakes.

CANDID CAMERA: Powell is from Wiscasset, and went to Maine College of Art, where she studied photography. She did some house restoration work and then, a couple of years after graduation she moved to the Boston area and worked for a stock photography company called Index Stock. “I was there for like a hot minute.” (The office closed during the dotcom crash.) Then she did some organic gardening in Salem and Marblehead in Massachusetts.

OFF THE LINE: Love of food has been a constant for her. She did some time as a cook in Portland restaurants, including two late (lamented) joints, Sonny’s and the former Figa. How did she make the leap to food distribution? The bloom started to wear off the rose for being behind the line. “I didn’t like the hours as I got older.” Food retail was a natural progression, though, and she signed on at Rosemont Grocery to work in their wholesale division.

TAKE THEM, THEY’RE YOURS: It was good work and Powell enjoyed it. But then Rosemont eliminated its wholesale division. The small chain offered her a deal though. “They said, take your customers.” Most were restaurants in the greater Portland area. “I went to them and said, ‘basically the only thing that is going to change initially is the name.'” Not that she just snapped her fingers and made it happen. She found “the most amazing” business counselor, Sarah Guerette, through the Women’s Business Network at CEI. “She pointed me in all the right directions.” That included helping Powell draw up a business plan and get a loan. “I don’t think people use that service as much as they should. It has been invaluable.”

A SPACE OF HER OWN: In October 2016 she started, on familiar ground. “Rosemont was even kind enough to let me work out of their warehouse for the first month.” The idea was to make the transition seamless for those customers. And the farmers Powell works with, such as Two Farmers and Broadturn in Scarborough, Little River in Buxton and Harvest Tide in Bowdoinham. After that first month, she found a shared workspace in Scarborough – close to many farm customers, and cheaper rents generally – to call her own.

FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS: She shares the space with the Locker Project, a nonprofit that organizes food pantries in about a dozen schools in the Portland-Westbrook area. “Katie Brown, the executive director, is a friend of mine.” Whenever Powell has extra produce that she is not able to sell, she donates it to the Locker Project. “It is a beautiful relationship.”

NO BIG DEAL: Powell connects farms to Portland restaurants like Hugo’s, Eventide, Honey Paw (as she calls the three adjoining restaurants, the Compound). “I go to the East Ender almost every day.” She also delivers to One Town Landing in Falmouth and Union Bagel and A & C Grocery in Portland; at the last, owner Joe Fournier is also a Rosemont veteran. “It was nice to start something with him again.” So how does she differ from say, Native Maine? “I sell generally the same things, but I function on a smaller scale.” Say Fournier wants apples. But not too many. “He doesn’t have space, and he doesn’t go through cases and cases of things.” So maybe Fournier only wants 10 pounds of apples. Powell will bring them to him; other distributors most likely wouldn’t want to deal in such small amounts.

FROM AWAY: She doesn’t keep much on stock, but she takes in shipments from Boston almost every day. “If it has to be from away, I definitely try to keep everything in the United States. There are things that people ask for specifically, things people want me to track down that they can’t get elsewhere.” Unusual requests could include citrus, avocados, bananas or other tropical fruits.

CUPCAKES ON BOARD: Tightly networked as she is, she occasionally does deliveries that don’t involve produce at all. Like from East End Cupcakes. Or a load of bread from Night Moves Bread + Pie. “I think we can all help each other out. Especially the lady-owned small business owners.”

COMMAND CENTRAL: Powell occasionally has help from a friend, but Dirigo Wholesale is otherwise a one-woman show. She hits the road armed with an Apple watch, command central for the 40 or 50 texts she’s likely to get in the course of a day with orders for this or that. “I’m safe though!” she said. (She dictates responses or pulls over.)

END GOAL: Is she the next Native Maine? “I like to think that I give them a little competition, but I am definitely not. That is not what I am looking to do. I am not looking to be that huge.” The goal? “To figure out how to help farms more. But I don’t know what that looks like yet. In the meantime, I am providing a service to restaurants.”