FAIRFIELD — David Gulak and Emilie Knight have set their sights on transforming the Hight building, built in 1895, into a “food hub” for their businesses and for local farmers.

Gulak, co-owner of Meridians Kitchen & Bar in Fairfield, and Knight, a former SNAP program coordinator for the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets, have owned the three-story, 9,000-square-foot building at 194 Main St. for six years, but are just now beginning the renovations.

SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the program formerly known as food stamps.

The old creamery building in Fairfield, pictured Thursday, The building is set to be turned into a space where local farmers can come and process their products and use it for dry storage. The 9000-square-foot building at 194 Main St. was built in 1895. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

“It’s a complicated situation,” Gulak said. “The amount of time, money and resources it takes to renovate a building of that size is daunting. We’ve really picked up momentum with opening the restaurant, and now there’s a lot more state and federal funding for food hubs and that type of construction so it just took some time for all the pieces to fall together.”

 

 

A person in an inflatable dinosaur costume entertains those passing the old creamery building in Fairfield Thursday. The building is set to be turned into a space where local farmers can come and process their products and use it for dry storage. Eighteen 5-by-6-foot painted art works fill the window spaces. The panels were painted by Jon Slack and three other artists. The 9000-square-foot building at 194 Main St., was built in 1895. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich AbrahamsonFood hubs provide local farmers with services such as processing, storage, distribution and marketing of their production online and in person. Currently, there are 236 food hubs in the United States.

Gulak and his partner, Josh Sullivan, opened the Meridians retail store with a third partner in June 2014. In 2019, the pair expanded the business and created the restaurant at 166 Main St. that focuses on locally grown food.

“We do everything we can at the restaurant. We ferment our own vegetables, make our own bread,” Gulak said. “But there’s lots of things we can’t do in that space, so with the new building we’re going to build a designated kitchen area for fermenting and curing and things like that, and we’ll recruit other food-based businesses and provide affordable space for them to do their processing.”

Jon Slack, owner of J.S. Industrial Arts, is the contractor Gulak and Knight enlisted to renovate the building. According to Gulak, Slack already had a vision in mind.

“Before we met Jon, he said that he’d just stand across the street and picture what he would do to the building, so when we hired him, I told him, ‘now is your chance,'” Gulak said.

This past week, Slack and his team began preparing the building for the first phase of renovations that will begin in the spring.

“We’ve started gutting and cleaning,” Slack said. “The bulk of the renovations will happen in the spring. We’re going to rework all of the brick, put in new windows. …”

As an added touch, Gulak and Knight decided to hang large, food-oriented cartoons in the window spaces as a way to pigeon-proof the building until the renovations commence next year.

“So we had this idea with boarding up the windows because my wife and I thought about how many people see this building every day,” Gulak said. “Twelve thousand cars drive by daily, and so we decided we wanted to put some life and color and fun back into the downtown.”

The cartoons were created by editorial cartoonist Forest Taber.

Gulak said he hopes revamping the building will bring more than just business to downtown Fairfield.

“We took a really long-term view of Fairfield,” Gulak said. “Fairfield still has the bones of its previous self. That building has such potential, and I want to inspire people and bring some hope back into the downtown.”


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