Following a pandemic-fueled winter and spring of fast-flowing vegan food news, the rapid pace of plant-based announcements continues this summer in Maine.

Speaking of fast-flowing, a plumbing explosion occurred inside the all-vegan Robin’s Table in Biddeford on July 22. The restaurant was closed when it happened, and it won’t reopen.

“I’m so sad and yes, angry,” owner Robin Adams said after the incident. “But I will move past this. Right now, I will step back, take a breath and smile knowing that Robin’s Table was successful and appreciated. As for the future? No idea.”

Robin’s Table first opened in March 2020, just before the pandemic lockdown began, and the restaurant was then shuttered for more than a year. Its fate remained uncertain until the end of April when Adams reopened. This summer, like many restaurants, Robin’s Table struggled to find enough staff, which limited hours. 

“Ironically, my last day of business was my best day of business,” Adams said. “I finally felt like it was going to happen. People found us. I had reservations, cake orders and standing orders with two large companies for monthly orders. I was at the restaurant on Thursday doing my prep, and the plumbing literally blew out because of an issue in the building behind me.” 

Adams said a worker was attempting to clear a clogged pipe in the adjacent building, and it resulted in sewage inside her formerly clean restaurant. Were she to find another location, Adams said she doesn’t know “if I can afford to go through the process” of opening the restaurant for a third time.

There’s no denying the closing is a loss to the local vegan community. I wish her well.

This summer’s other vegan news items are rosier. For one, in mid-July, Fred’s Fried Dough food cart finally returned to the late-night Old Port scene for the first time since 2019. New this year on the cart is vegan ice cream in addition to the vegan fried dough. The cart posts its location details at @fredsfrieddough on Facebook and Twitter, and @fredsfried _dough on Instagram.

Last month brought news that the all-vegan Peace Ridge Sanctuary plans to open an equine shelter on 640 acres in Freedom. The sanctuary needs to raise $650,000 to build a horse barn and other necessary facilities. Right now, an anonymous donor is matching all donations, and if the sanctuary can raise $50,000 by October, it will be able to break ground before winter. Until the horse barn is built, requests to take abused and neglected horses are stacking up at the sanctuary in Brooks, with no space in the existing barns to house the large animals. 

The last few months have also brought news of a new vegan food cart, a new vegan retail store, a new on-farm vegan cafe and a new vegan doughnut shop. Here’s a look at these latest developments. 

SOUTHERN-ISH FOOD CART IN CORNISH

The Greenhouse by SAO food cart did a quick test launch in the fall of 2019, even catering a vegan wine tasting at Cellardoor Winery in Portland, followed by a winter of scheduling and making arrangements for a big launch in spring 2020. But owner Shelby Anne Oates’ plans for the launch of the all-vegan food cart were turned upside down by the pandemic. Instead, Oates took the cart back home to Atlanta, where she was born and raised, to serve her vegan comfort food during the uncertain year.

But this summer, The Greenhouse by SAO cart returned to Maine, with a home base outside The Local Gear in Cornish and pop-ups at other places and events, where Oates serves a changing menu of masala street corn, carrot dogs with black bean chili, barbecue mushroom sliders, grilled cheese sandwiches, chickpea frittatas and pasta salad. 

“You will definitely taste some of my Southern roots, I believe,” said Oates, “especially in the staples I put on the menu more often than others, like my SAO sweet Southern cornbread or my slow-cooked collard greens, but I also like to help vegans get a fix that sometimes needs addressing like a nice charred and melty SAO grilled cheese. I’ve been serving up my BBQ Shroom Sammich a lot this summer, made with leeks and shiitakes mostly, piled on a thick piece of grilled Italian bread covered in an SAO house garlic and smoked paprika spread. It was a hit at the Ossipee Valley Music Festival and will even be served up at a wedding I am catering soon.”

The food cart has been popping up in Steep Falls and Kezar Falls and will be at Doles Orchard in Limington for apple-harvest season. Check social media (@saocooksandcatering on Facebook) for weekly schedule updates.

LITTLE LAD’S GOES RETAIL

Since June, fans of Little Lad’s famous popcorn and of its former cafes (the last of which closed in 2015) have been flocking to Main Street in the Penobscot County town of Corinth, where the vegan food manufacturer opened a small retail outlet selling its complete product line along with sandwiches, soups and scoops of up to 20 flavors of its Nice Creme.

The new Little Lad’s shop is housed in a former bank building with outdoor seating and a drive-through window, where customers can pick up phone orders. Little Lad’s is best-known for its popcorn, yet the store stocks all of its more than 100 products, including granola, crackers and fruit tarts made in the Popcorn Factory located 250 feet down the road.

In the shop, a whole rack is stuffed with bags of the signature popcorn in all its flavors. Refrigerator and freezer cases hold drinks, grab-and-go sandwiches, veggie burgers, frozen dinners and Nice Creme pints. The store also makes sandwiches to order and offers breakfast items, soups and desserts.

“We also have some locally grown berries right now, and usually some fruits and vegetables for sale, too,” said owner Maria Fleming, who has recently hired more staff at the production facility to keep up with steadily rising demand. 

Fleming said the shop has been busy this summer, with tourists stopping on their way to Moosehead Lake, customers of past Little Lad’s restaurants making a pilgrimage and locals swinging through the takeout window to grab lunch. 

The Little Lad’s store is open Sundays from noon to 6 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Frinklepod Farm in Arundel has a new outdoor cafe called Snagglebites selling farm-fresh grain bowls and salads. Photo courtesy of Frinklepod Farm

FRONT-ROW SEAT AT FRINKLEPOD

In July, an outdoor cafe called Snagglebites serving farm-fresh lunch opened next to the vegetable fields at Frinklepod Farm in Arundel. The short menu features plant-based bowls, salads and bite-sized snacks. The cafe is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“For years, we’ve been toying with the idea of offering more lunch options during the summertime,” said Flora Brown, who farms with her husband, Noah Wentworth. In the winter, the certified-organic farm sells prepared food from its wintertime store, which closes during the busy summer season. “This winter we took the plunge and bought a used lunch cart which we have turned into Snagglebites.”

The name comes from the children’s book “Uno’s Garden” beloved by Brown and Wentworth’s daughters and the source of the farm’s name. Supported by the farm’s commercial kitchen, the cart extends the food prep area out of the summer market space and allows customers to watch their plant-based bowls and salads being prepared. 

“We realized that preparing lunch right in front of our customers would allow them to see how it’s made and hopefully even inspire them to try making a similar dish at home using ingredients from our farm store,” Brown said. “We also wanted to minimize the food waste and packaging challenges that we have experienced with trying to keep our retail cooler filled with prepared food.”

Most of the Snagglebites bowls start with a rice-quinoa pilaf topped with a choice of baked Heiwa tofu, hummus or fresh vegetables (raw or grilled). This is drizzled with peanut ginger, barbecue or green goddess sauce (all made on the farm). A new addition to the bowl menu is the black bean bowl with tortilla chips and potato queso. 

LOVEBIRDS OVER THE BORDER

Mainers can’t seem to get enough vegan doughnuts, and now the all-vegan Lovebirds Donuts in Kittery is preparing to bring its wares over the bridge and across the border to a shop in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The new shop will be located on the pedestrian-friendly Vaughan Mall.

“The Portsmouth location is substantially smaller than the Kittery location, much more of a boutique, city cafe, primarily designed for takeout service with a few seats inside,” said Tamara Monroe, who owns the business with Ryan MacDougall. 

On the weekends, Lovebirds regularly bumps up against the limits of the number of customers they can serve, making expansion the logical next step. All the doughnuts will continue to be made in Kittery, where the kitchen was built with the intention of supplying multiple shops. Monroe says it takes seven minutes to get from the Kittery bakery to the Portsmouth shop. 

This vegan Hunneecomb doughnut from Lovebirds Donuts will soon be sold from a bakery on the Vaughan Mall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, along with all the other Lovebirds doughnuts. Photo courtesy of Lovebirds Donuts

Gearing up for the new retail spot, Lovebirds has added bakers and is in the process of hiring more baristas, who will rotate between the two shops. The new location will offer the same monthly menus and online ordering as the original. This means flavors, like this month’s Hunneecomb, a brioche doughnut dipped in ganache, stripped with butterscotch and topped with housemade vegan honeycomb candy, will be available in both locations. 

Monroe said they hope to have the Portsmouth Lovebirds open this fall. Until then, look for their doughnuts at the Kittery shop and Nectar Cafe, Grateful Gardens at Rocky Acres and Strand Cafe (all in York), as well as Copper Branch in Portland and Frinklepod Farm in Arundel.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at 

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila


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