Bill Seretta, executive director of Fork Food Lab, outside the incubator’s new location in South Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Fork Food Lab, the shared commercial kitchen space and food business incubator, plans to begin moving this month into a two-building campus it has purchased in South Portland that’s eight times the size of its current location, allowing for more of the burgeoning businesses on its lengthy wait list to start the process of growing into independent operations of their own.

The new 42,000-square-foot location at 95-97 Darling Ave. represents a massive upgrade in workspace quantity and quality for the nonprofit group, which is currently located in a two-floor, 5,200-square-foot space at 72 Parris St. in Portland. The larger building at the South Portland site is now undergoing a $4.5 million buildout to ready it for use by the end of May.

Fork Food Lab Executive Director Bill Seretta said a little more than half of the South Portland space will be ready for occupancy this summer, allowing all of its 60 current members to move over by the end of the month, along with an additional 30 this summer from its 100-applicant waitlist.

Fork Food Lab wanted to purchase the property last year, but when about $2.5 million of its financing fell through at the last minute, the group opted instead to lease the space to start. East Brown Cow, the Portland real estate developers who owned the buildings, allowed Fork Food Lab to begin construction on the Darling Avenue property last year.

Fork Food Lab officially closed on the property April 27, paying $5.9 million. Seretta said readying the buildings – the former office space of financial services company Wex – for its food business tenants will need to be completed in stages.

“We’re building the building and raising the money as we go” from grants and contributions, Seretta said. “Most nonprofits would raise the money and then build the building. We didn’t have five or six years to do that, because we have a waiting list and we needed to get out of the space we’re in because it didn’t accommodate our needs. It was either do this or close.”


Founded in 2016, Fork Food Lab rents fully equipped kitchen space to local food business entrepreneurs, and offers support with services such as testing and marketing. The incubator has helped scores of local food businesses launch, including South Portland gourmet whoopie pie company Cape Whoopies, Gorham vegan food stand Curbside Comforts, Middle Eastern food truck and caterers Falafel Mafia, Old Port restaurant The Highroller Lobster Co., and Biddeford’s small-batch, swoon-worthy Parlor Ice Cream Co.

Zoe Borenstein, a private chef, carries a tray of chocolate chip cookies to a cooking rack while working in Fork Food Lab in Portland in 2021. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


“Maine is a foodie destination now, nationally and globally, and that’s happened in the last seven or eight years. But that attention tends to be around our restaurants,” Seretta said. “Most of our members are consumer packaged food folks who are making products to put on shelves. We’re trying to add value to locally sourced ingredients.”

Seretta said 60% of Fork Food’s member businesses produce consumer packaged goods, and the balance are food trucks, caterers and makers of prepared meals to go.

He said he expects the food manufacturing sector that Fork Food Lab nurtures “will become much more noticeable in the next two to five years. There’s been a lot of growth in that arena that is just becoming apparent, and Fork is in the middle of that.”

Seretta added that more than 60% of Fork Food Lab’s members are businesses founded and owned by women, and 20% – and growing  – are owned by people of color and new immigrants to Maine.


Kat Jordan, owner of Kittylamb, a prepared organic baking mix company certified by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, started with Fork Food Lab in August. She launched Kittylamb’s first product, Fudgy Brownie mix, in December; the mix is now in 15 area stores.

The new facility will afford Kittylamb its own dedicated, private space. “In the new location, we’ll be able to store more ingredients,” Jordan said. “Right now, everyone at the old building is maxed out and busting at the seams, so in the new space, everyone will have so much space to really grow.”

She said the new facility will allow Kittylamb to launch its second product, Creamy Lemon Bars, this summer, with additional new products to come in the fall and winter.

Rose Barboza and her native Nigerian husband, Young Francis, are partners in Oga Suya, a Nigerian barbecue catering and pop-up concept they hope to turn into a restaurant and lounge eventually.

Young Francis turns meat on the grill outside Portland Zoo on Fox Street in Portland. The business, Oga Suya, is a Nigerian barbecue catering and pop-up concept he shares with his wife, Rose Barboza. The couple hopes to turn it into a restaurant and lounge eventually. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“Right now, it’s so crowded over there (in the Portland Fork Food Lab), so we’re having to compete for use of equipment,” Barboza said. “In the new space, I don’t imagine that will happen. And as we’re growing, it’ll be nice to have more space so we can take on more employees.

“It’s awesome this exists in the Portland area, especially when rent and real estate are so unbelievably expensive,” Barboza added. “We’re paying maybe a fifth or less of what we would pay if we were to rent our own space.”


Seretta would not provide the cost of rent at either location, but he said rent for members at the new facility will be higher than it was at the Portland building, noting that Fork Food Lab hasn’t raised rent in four years and that the price hike won’t even cover the inflation in that time.

“But (the members) are also getting a lot more stuff,” he said. “We put in features here that we learned from our old space – that’s how you should do it.”


The new kitchen facilities have twice as many work stations as there are in Portland and will feature about 1,900 square feet of walk-in refrigerator/freezer space, almost four times more than at the Parris Street facility.

The new Fork Food kitchens will also use highly efficient electric-powered induction burners instead of gas stoves and computerized hood vents that won’t affect the ambient temperature of the kitchen nearly as much as standard hoods.

“We’re hoping to keep the kitchen temperature comfortable, around 68 or 70 degrees,” Seretta said. “Right now, it’s running 100 degrees in the summer and 45 in the winter, because all of the air is getting sucked out and you can’t condition it.”


Seretta said he expects the higher-priced, energy-efficient equipment will pay for itself over time.

“Even if it doesn’t fully pay for itself, we’ll benefit just in terms of comfort for workers and environmental concerns,” Seretta said. “It’s not just a dollar figure. There are human and sustainability issues that are equally important. We’re trying to send the message that there’s another way to do this.”

Seretta talks about Fork Food’s plans, standing in what will be the bakery in the incubator’s new, larger location. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Other new features Fork Food tenants can look forward to include a three-barrel brewery for entrepreneurs aiming to start a brewery or established brewers who want to run test batches, a bakery area, a temperature-controlled fermentation room, an event space with a demo kitchen that can also accommodate weddings, and a space for holding pop-up dinners.

The new Fork Food headquarters will have a meat inspection facility and dedicated spaces for fish and produce packaging and processing, all kept separate to avoid cross-contamination. The facility will also include dedicated office space for state, city and federal Department of Agriculture food inspectors.

“We have inspectors in pretty much every week. We’re the most inspected facility in the state of Maine,” he said.

Between the new expanded walk-in coolers and a 2,000-square-foot dry storage area, the new Fork Food Lab will be able to offer its tenants massively increased food storage space. “Not having enough food storage space where we are now has been a major limiting factor,” Seretta said.


The dishwashing station is a “game-changer,” too, Seretta said, noting that the new dish pit will be equipped with a conveyor washer that can handle about 150 racks of dishes an hour.

Parking, too, has been considerably expanded at the South Portland facility, which boasts 115 spaces, compared with 13 at the Parris Street facility.

William Mann, economic development director for the city of South Portland, called Fork Food Lab opening on Darling Avenue “an outstanding collaborative opportunity.”

“We think this is a wonderful development,” Mann said. “Over time, we see it as a great feeder system for food businesses to open locally. We’ve seen a number of new restaurants open in South Portland over the last few years, and we think this will only bolster that.”

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