Solo Italiano in Portland is partnering with The Farm Stand in South Portland to provide ready-to-eat meals. Mercedes Laboa, co-owner of the restaurant, said she shops at the grocer, which features fresh produce from Maine farms, for both the restaurant and her home table. Kate Irish Collins / The Forecaster

SOUTH PORTLAND — Fewer people work 9-5 these days, which makes meal preparation especially challenging. That’s why many grocery stores in Maine are offering more ready-to-eat items that are often prepared on-site, according to Curtis Picard, a spokesman for the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association.

The Farm Stand in South Portland and Solo Italiano restaurant in Portland are putting a new spin on this trend. The pair is partnering to create ready-made meals and take-out items made with the fresh meat and produce provided by small-scale Maine farmers.

Solo Italiano will also create housemade pasta and traditionally inspired Italian sauces for easy preparation at home, according to Ben Slayton, who co-owns The Farm Stand with Cape Elizabeth-based farmer Penny Jordan.

The Farm Stand, 161 Ocean St., in South Portland will close Jan. 15 for a complete renovation. When it reopens the grocer will offer mostly ready-to-eat meals from the Portland restaurant Solo Italiano. File

The Farm Stand will close Jan. 15 for a complete renovation, which will include a much larger commercial kitchen, as well as an espresso bar that will feature freshly made pastries.

Slayton hopes to reopen by the second week in February.

The goal is for up to 75% of sales to be pre-prepared items, so the amount of groceries available will be pared down significantly, Slayton said, but The Farm Stand will continue to sell fresh vegetables, fruit and meat.

Slayton said the “grocery business is not easy and there are very low margins. With this venture, we’re hoping to renew excitement and energy around” locally and sustainably grown meat and produce.

“We’re just meeting customers where they are. We’re trying to meet customer demand. And this is an easy way for people to engage in the local food system,” Slayton said. “It’s always been our mission to be a convenient, accessible place where people could get to access to local, sustainably farmed agriculture goods and that hasn’t changed a bit.”

Slayton said partnering with Mercedes and Paolo Laboa, who own Solo Italiano, was natural. The Laboas already do much of the meat shopping for their restaurant at The Farm Stand, and the family regularly shops at the grocer for its own table.

He said Chef Paolo Laboa would “do the quarterbacking” for the kitchen at The Farm Stand, including creating the daily menus, but Mercedes Laboa would be on site every day to oversee the operation.

The Laboas opened Solo Italiano on Commercial Street in 2016. The couple now lives in South Portland and said in a press release that The Farm Stand is “a fantastic place to find all local ingredients.”

Using local produce is important because “it’s more flavorful and it has much more nutritional value since it’s fresher,” Mercedes Laboa said this week. “We also tend to incorporate a lot of leafy greens, potatoes, and other root vegetables into pasta fillings, of which (The Farm Stand) has an amazing selection.”

Picard agreed and said while people have less time than ever and they’re looking for “more convenience-type food items,” they also want fresh food, and to “know what goes into their meals.”

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