If you have a sweet tooth and live or work in Portland, you’ve likely noticed the upsurge in the number of food trucks and carts serving desserts. Ice cream remains a popular option, but now you can also buy a French macaron or an Italian cannoli as you stroll around town. Also, mobile popsicles have gone upscale.

What is driving the increase? The entrepreneurs we talked to said it’s a natural evolution of the city’s food truck scene.

For the entrepreneurs, “It feels a little less competitive because you’re not offering another entrée option,” said Hannah Daman, owner of Maine Maple Creemee Co.

But it’s not just the entrepreneurs who make out. When a dessert truck pulls up to a brewery or a food truck park, Dan Zarin, co-owner of Twist, said, “everybody wins.”

“We’re making it more of an experience that attracts more people,” he said.

The economic angle that has been luring chefs to launch food trucks for the last decade is also in play — it’s cheaper than opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Case in point: Haden Gooch, co-owner of Pasture Pops, who said a dessert cart was the least expensive way he and his partner could get into the food business, debt-free. “We’ve bootstrapped everything,” he said.

That’s the why. Here’s the who and where: These Portland dessert trucks and carts, old and new, will be out and about on Labor Day weekend, ready to serve you a treat to celebrate (or mourn!) the end of summer. One you won’t find is the Brûlée Bike. Charlie Compton, who started the crème brûlée business when he was 15, is headed off to college (in the other Portland), and he’s taking his brûlée business with him.

EIGHTY 8 DONUTS

Go big: The Sugar Rush, a box of 25 doughnuts. Courtesy Eighty 8 Donuts

OWNERS: Garrett Champlin and Ellen O’Keefe

BACKSTORY: Champlin, a medical marijuana grower, and his longtime partner O’Keefe, a portfolio manager, purchased Eighty 8 Donuts in June from Kevin Sandes, who started the business. Champlin’s daughter Kelley, a chef who lives in Massachusetts, helps them develop new flavors. Champlin says the business has been keeping them busy. They watch a lot less television, he joked, and instead spend their evenings folding doughnut boxes and testing new recipes.

TRADE DIVIDEND: “The reception that we get from people,” Champlin said. “It is amazing. Everyone is always happy. It’s been all happiness and smiles.”

NEWEST FLAVOR: Doctor’s RX, a lime-glazed doughnut topped with baked, shredded coconut.

IN THE WORKS: The Figgy, a doughnut with goat cheese, fig jam and scallion; and The Rooster, with peanut butter glaze and sriracha.

THE PERFECT MATCH: Doughnuts may be the ultimate stoner food, but Champlin keeps his two businesses separate. “I purposely keep them distinct because it’s such a warm, friendly family item – the doughnut – that I wouldn’t want to sell it at all with somebody giving it a negative connotation,” he said. “Even though (pot) is legal in the state, it’s still a delicate issue.” The proposed rules and regulations governing marijuana sales in Maine wouldn’t allow him to sell from a food truck anyway, he said. Champlin isn’t ruling out selling CBD- or THC-infused doughnuts wholesale in the future, however, from a separate commercial kitchen.

COST: $6 for six sugar-dusted doughnuts; $7 for six basic glazed doughnuts; $8 for six specialty donuts; $30 for the “sugar rush,” a box of 25 doughnuts.

LABOR DAY WEEKEND: Friday on Spring Street (nearest Temple) in Portland  from 8 to 11 a.m., and at L.L. Bean’s Discovery Park in Freeport from 6 to 8 p.m.; Saturday at Tandem Coffee on Anderson Street in Portland from 9 a.m. to noon; Sunday morning on the Eastern Prom. @eighty8donuts on Instagram

 

FRED’S FRIED DOUGH

Fried dough with all the toppings, from Fred’s Fried Dough food cart. Courtesy of Kyle McNair

OWNER: Kyle McNair

BACKSTORY: McNair worked two jobs for a year to raise money to pay for his food cart. Now, every weekend, from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., he sells fried dough on Fore Street, near Five Guys, catching bar patrons as they stream out onto the street. The cart is called Fred’s because that’s his middle name. And it’s what his mother calls him.

CALORIES PER SERVING: About 500.

CRAZIEST CUSTOMER: On July 4, McNair was parked on Munjoy Hill in Portland when a man devoured five consecutive orders of fried dough. “He put on chocolate sauce,” McNair said. “He was living his best life.”

COSTLIEST INGREDIENT: Chocolate sauce. “People who are intoxicated come over and start drenching it. They use half the bottle.”

WHAT’S NEXT? A fried dough lobster roll. “It has to be good, right?”

COST: Regular $6; large $8, toppings included: vegan chocolate sauce, caramel, cinnamon sugar and powdered sugar.

LABOR DAY WEEKEND:  11 p.m. to 2 a,m. outside Five Guys on Fore Street. @fredsfrieddough on Instagram

 

LITTLE BEE HONEY ICE CREAM

Little Bee collaborated with Banded Brewing on a sour raspberry stout with chocolate flakes and raspberry puree; and a bourbon barrel stout with bourbon balls. Courtesy of Jenny Siler

OWNER: Jenny Siler

BACKSTORY:  Siler and her husband used to own Black Cat Coffee, a coffee shop on Stevens Avenue in Portland. When the ice cream shop supplying Black Cat went out of business, Siler started making her own, using honey in the ice cream base. The ice cream developed a following, and eventually evolved into its own business.

AMOUNT OF HONEY USED IN A SEASON: Siler has no idea, but orders honey by the case, each of which holds four quarts.

MOST UNUSUAL FLAVORS: Spruce tips, Thai basil, orange blossom. Siler says her eggless base keeps the ice cream creamy and scoopable and allows her to showcase delicate herbal flavors. She also has a line of custom beer flavors, including Lone Pine Oh-J IPA. “I know that sounds weird, but the citrusy, hoppy flavors kind of taste like a creamsicle in the end.”

SURPRISE HIT: Cardamom rose

NEWEST FLAVOR: Butterfinger potato chip, a happy accident that occurred when Siler was eating potato chips while making Butterfinger ice cream.

COST: 4-ounce scoop $4

LABOR DAY WEEKEND: Check @littlebeehoneyicecream on Instagram

 

This summer, Hannah Daman has brought a taste of Vermont to Maine. Photo by Kelsey Kobik

MAINE MAPLE CREEMEE CO.

OWNER: Hannah Daman

BACKSTORY: Daman has traveled regularly to Vermont to visit friends and play gigs with Sibylline, a Portland-based experimental folk band (she is their singer/guitarist). While in Vermont, she indulged in a local specialty, the creemee, or maple-flavored soft serve. Soon she was looking forward to the ice cream on these trips as much as the music-making. With the encouragement of her friends and boyfriend, she launched her creemee truck in July. She sells both maple-flavored and wild blueberry soft serve, often presented in her own handmade cones.

NUMBER OF TIMES SHE’S HAD TO PRONOUNCE “CREEMEE”FOR CUSTOMERS: “People just don’t say it. They’ll say ‘I want the maple one or the blueberry one.” I can tell the Vermonters because they’ll say, ‘I’m so excited for this.'”

MAPLE MEMORIES: “We grew up with real maple syrup in my house and it was very precious. My dad would pour it on our pancakes, and if there was any left on our plate he was not happy.”

COST: Kiddie $3; regular $4.50- $7.50, depending on whether it’s served in a cone and the number of toppings.

LABOR DAY WEEKEND: Eastern Prom in the afternoons; in the evenings, 94 Washington Ave. (the Root Cellar parking lot). @mainemaplecreemeeco on Instagram.

 

THE MARSHMALLOW CART

OWNER: Madison Gouzie

BACKSTORY: The Marshmallow Cart got its start in 2015, when Gouzie and his friend Eric Holstein (a founder of Fork Food Lab) teamed up to duplicate a wintertime business they’d started in Brooklyn selling s’mores and hot chocolate. When they moved to Portland, the Colby College grads flipped the business on its head and turned it into a summertime food cart, sans the hot chocolate. Gouzie is now the sole owner and works year-round, although summer is his busiest season. He still hits the streets on occasion, although much of his business now comes in the form of weddings and corporate events. Gouzie uses Hershey’s chocolate for his s’mores, and makes his own marshmallows and graham crackers. He roasts the marshmallow with a crème brûlée torch.

JOB HAZARD: Gouzie burned himself once, when he was making s’mores at Harvest on the Harbor. “All the customers thought it was a party trick.”

RECORD HOLDER: A man ate eight s’mores at an adoption party this summer, trying to work his way through the 10-12 flavors Gouzie had on his cart that day. The previous record was four, held by an 8-year-old at a bar mitzvah.

COST:  $4

LABOR DAY WEEKEND:  Friday after 5 p.m. at L.L. Bean; Saturday Gouzie will be catering a wedding; Sunday downtown Portland, either Tommy’s Park or Monument Square; Monday Kittery Trading Post. @themarshmallowcart on Instagram or check Facebook.

 

PALETA GUY

The blueberry paleta is made with local blueberries and flavored with cardamom. Photo by Korik Vargas

OWNER: Korik Vargas

BACKSTORY: Two years ago, Vargas, a native of Colombia, moved to Maine with his wife, who is from New Hampshire. A biologist by training – he worked in conservation in Colombia – Vargas launched his paleta business this summer to introduce Portlanders to the Mexican-style popsicle, which has caught on throughout Latin America. His daughter, a toddler, “is the best tester that I have,” Vargas said. Vargas plans to, one day, donate 5-10 percent of his profits to conservation projects in the tropics. “If we have better forests in Colombia,” he says, “we will have more fruit, and if we have more fruit, we will have more popsicles.”

MOST EXOTIC FRUIT FLAVOR: Lulo, a tropical citrus fruit from the tomato family that is orange outside and green inside. Vargas says it tastes like a cross between lime and rhubarb. He orders lulo for his paletas through La Bodega Latina on Congress Street.

TRENDING FLAVOR: Mojito, made with lime, mint, blueberry and agave. When Vargas gets together with his neighbors in South Portland, they turn it into a cocktail by putting the popsicle into a glass and adding a shot of rum.

FLAVORS ON DECK: Raspberry, watermelon, blueberry and sour cherry, all made with local fruit.

COST:  $3.50 each

LABOR DAY WEEKEND: Eastern Prom in Portland; paletaguy.com

 

PASTURE POPS

The chocolate-sea salt Pasture Pop uses milk from Milkhouse Farm. Courtesy of Pasture Pops

OWNERS: Haden Gooch and Katie Gualtieri

BACKSTORY: Gooch works with the dairy program at Wolfe’s Neck Center in Freeport;  Gualtieri works at Milkhouse Farm in Monmouth. The couple, who moved to Maine a few years ago, hopes to buy a dairy farm someday. To raise the money for it, they created a value-added milk product they could sell through a food cart: the Pasture Pop. On the menu: ice cream popsicles made with just-off-the-farm milk, fruits and produce.

 

No. 1 SELLER: Buttermilk rhubarb.

WEIRDEST FLAVOR: Carrot.

SUMMER ICE CREAM SANDWICH: Salted corn cookies (“kind of like sweet cornbread,” Gooch says) with blueberry sherbet.

NEXT UP: An experiment with hay ice cream. “People do it in the Netherlands,” he said. “They take fresh hay … and they steep it in the milk, almost like a tea.” He plans to mix it with blueberry jam. Gooch admits “it could be disgusting.”

COST:  $4 for all pops, $7 for ice cream sandwiches (they’re big, Gooch says).

LABOR DAY WEEKEND: Check @pasturepops on Instagram

 

SUGA SUGA

The Suga Suga food cart is known for its brightly colored macarons. Courtesy of Tara Canaday

OWNER: Tara Canaday

BACKSTORY: Canaday ran a cake shop in the Boston area before moving to Maine. She loved making French macarons more than anything else in the shop, so when she moved to Maine, she rented space in Fork Food Lab in Portland and got busy making them in “weird flavors and bright colors.” She also makes whoopie pie-like “cookie sammies” filled with buttercream, mousse or ganache.

A year after launching her macaron food cart, Canaday is planning to expand: she is looking for her own production space, working on a licensing deal, and recently began teaching macaron-making classes.

BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION: Many customers are expecting coconut macaroons, which are a whole different animal. Also, “I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘Oh, these are pretty little whoopie pies.’”

WEIRDEST FLAVOR:  Chicken and waffle. Part of Canaday’s “Big Mac” line, the oversized chicken-and-waffle macaron is filled with maple buttercream and served with a piece of crispy fried chicken and a drizzle of maple syrup. “Every time I’ve had them on the menu, people will come out of the woodwork for them.”

COST: Regular $2.50 per macaron; $6-8 for Big Macs, depending on the flavor. $4 for cookie sammies.

LABOR DAY WEEKEND: Canaday will be attending her brother’s wedding, but you can find her macarons at Rising Tide Brewing in Portland, 103 Fox St., on Friday and at Fork Food Lab’s Saturday Snack Shop in Congress Square Park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. @sugasugaportland on Instagram

 

TWIST

Twist food truck offers soft serve “twisted” with other ingredients. Jamie Mercurio Photography

OWNERS:  Dan Zarin and Melissa Lombardi

BACKSTORY: Zarin, a former advertising copywriter, and Lombardi, a former manager at Woodford Food & Beverage in Portland, both love ice cream and thought Portland didn’t have enough options. So this summer they started selling their own from a food truck.

FAN BENEFITS: Zarin and Lombardi named a flavor after one of their regulars. Mel, who visits the truck several times a week, likes peanut butter, so her flavor is called Melly’s Chocolate PB Pie.

HIGHEST COMPLIMENT: “Oh my god, this tastes like childhood,” from a customer eating Pebbles (The Redhead) – vanilla ice cream twisted with Fruity Pebbles cereal and topped with strawberry dust.

SURPRISE HIT: Hawaiian crunch – vanilla ice cream twisted with pineapple and topped with toasted coconut crunch and chicharron (fried pork rind) dust.

COST: $6-8, depending on number of blend-ins and toppings; $6 basic vanilla or chocolate

LABOR DAY WEEKEND:  Saturday concert at Thompson’s Point in Portland; Sunday West End between Bonobo and Chaval restaurants on Pine Street; unscheduled Friday and Monday – check @portlandtwist on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


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