Bloom time: Vegan food options proliferate in Maine

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From a Portland company making seaweed-based burgers to a community center in Dexter serving vegan meals, the state’s plant-based portfolio grew in 2021.
A new survey from Whole Foods Market and Wakefield Research finds 56 percent of respondents think it’s important to serve vegan dishes at holiday gatherings, and the metric seems an accurate reflection of this wacky year, which has proved a boom time for vegan food in Maine. As 2021 nears its close, the plant-based happenings keep rolling in, even as I type, making it a struggle to squeeze them all in. Here goes.
Last month, vegan burger company Veggie Life announced a move to the former Mainely Custard building at 150 U.S. Route 1 in Freeport. That location is now the production facility for the company’s frozen veggie burgers and jackfruit chili, both of which were recently added to the menus of all the Sea Dog restaurants in New England.
Veggie Life moved from its original rented kitchen space in The Forks. Owner Jaime Shaw, who has a restaurant background, is focused on fulfilling her increased wholesale order load inside the company’s new and spacious digs, yet she hasn’t ruled out the possibility of selling vegan food from the Freeport site. Could a veggie burger café or a vegan ice cream shop be in Freeport’s future? I’ll keep you posted.
In other veggie burger news, Akua, a Portland-based company that makes foods from nutrient-dense sea vegetables, launched a kelp veggie burger earlier this year, and it landed a mention in The New York Times’ Front Burner column, where Florence Fabricant wrote: “Even if you knew how kelp tasted you probably couldn’t guess it from sampling these new iterations.” More vegetable burger news comes from the new food vendor Snow Dogs at the Camden Snow Bowl, which plans to serve veggie burgers and veggie dogs, among other plant-based offerings, when the mountain reopens for the ski season.
The options for vegan snacks have been expanding in Maine, too. Portland-based granola bar company Sidebar recently released a vegan bar made with crystallized ginger, almond butter and dried apricots, while this fall, Kittery-based doughnut shop Lovebirds started making vegan croissants and dipping them in chocolate.
Online vegan treat maker Baristas + Bites, based in Portland, recently achieved Kosher certification, and Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Scarborough started carrying the company’s vegan Anzac cookies. Meanwhile, Brunswick-based R.E.D.D. launched a new flavor of its ready-to-mix vegan elixirs: matcha latte.
Members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protest the practice of boiling lobsters in Portland’s Congress Square Park on Oct. 14. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals attracted notice Oct. 14 when it protested the practice of boiling lobsters by setting up a dunk tank in Portland’s Congress Square Park. I checked it out and was surprised by the many horn blasts from supportive drivers. A protester told me she was impressed with how many people walking by told her they were vegan.
In early November, King Middle School in Portland invited me along with Ahmed Abbas of Dina’s Cuisine, Alana Dao of Công Tử Bột, newly elected Portland City Councilor Roberto Rodriguez of Fresh Food Gardens and Rihab Al Touma of the Portland Public Schools, to talk with students about our cultural food traditions. I spoke about the global culture of vegetarianism and its history here in Portland. A little bit of that culture showed up in Arundel recently at Frinklepod Farm’s all-vegan Harvest Dinner, where the farmers served pumpkin seed croquettes made from a recipe of mine first published more than a decade ago in the Portland Press Herald.
At the mostly vegetarian Little Gem in Bangor, the colorful Jen Pen salad is topped with carrots, peanuts, cabbage, edamame, cucumbers, cilantro, avocado and miso-sesame dressing. Photo courtesy of Little Gem
Plant-based Gem in Bangor
In the midst of the pandemic, Maggie Bauman and her mother, Sara Bauman, both vegans, moved from Toledo, Ohio, to Bangor, where they bought a duplex and settled into their new life in Maine. Then, last month, the pair opened the plant-based restaurant Little Gem, which is co-located with Mainely Supplements in the Hannaford Mall Plaza. The restaurant is serving mostly vegan and vegetarian salads, wraps and smoothies.
“We’ve gotten a lot of business and great feedback and a lot of excitement on social media,” Maggie Bauman said. “The Jen Pen salad is definitely the biggest seller at the moment. It’s named for my aunt and has carrots, cabbage, cucumbers, edamame, crushed peanuts, avocado, cilantro and miso-sesame dressing.”
All the dishes are vegan or vegetarian, except for a meat-eaters version of the Gem salad, which is topped with chicken, bacon and cheese, along with pita crisps, raisins, tomatoes, mushrooms and onions. The vegan Gem salad comes topped with jackfruit chicken, tofu bacon and vegan mozzarella. The Sol Joy salad features beans, corn, avocado and cheddar cheese, while the Hey Jude comes topped with chickpeas, cabbage, quinoa and feta. Smoothies include Chocolate Indulgence, Fresh Green, and PB + Chai.
“We want to create a restaurant that caters to vegans and vegetarians because there seems to be a lack of options around here,” Maggie Bauman said.
The Baumans spent the last decade in Toledo running a family restaurant started by Maggie Bauman’s grandmother and aunt. Sara Bauman used in live in Portland, and the pandemic stirred a desire to return to Maine. Maggie Bauman said Bangor’s affordability and proximity to Acadia National Park drew them to the riverside city.
“The restaurant industry is what we know,” Maggie said. “We decided we’d give it a shot.”
Toast bakery will use its sourdough, gluten-free, vegan loaves and bagels as the base for sandwiches when it opens a shop in Kittery. It hopes to have the shop open by year’s end. Photo courtesy of Toast
Gluten-Free Toast in Kittery
The artisanal, gluten-free bread Nina Holland developed during the pandemic quickly attracted a loyal following for pick-up and delivery. Now Holland has rented a storefront in Kittery where she plans to pair her sourdough bread, which is also vegan, with sandwich toppings. By the end of the year, Holland hopes to open the plant-based sandwich shop Toast at 7 Shapleigh Road. The menu will be gluten-free and vegan except for pasture-raised eggs which can be added to any sandwich.
It took Holland many tries before she perfected Toast’s signature sourdough bread and bagels using wild yeast and a recipe that mimics wheat bread. “I was looking at texture, for one, because gluten-free breads in the store are very crumbly,” Holland said of her recipe development process. “I wanted a crispy crust on the outside and soft and doughy on the inside. Once I completed recipe seven, I got that texture and the sourdough flavor. I said, ‘This is the one.’”
To help those with gluten intolerances and digestive tract issues, Holland uses a sourdough starter based on rice flour.
“Naturally fermented yeast is good for the gut,” said Holland. “The brown rice flour and water sits and ferments, and it creates good active bacteria that is good for your gut. The bacteria help break down carbohydrates, so people can break it down easier in their bodies.”
Holland set up a Kickstarter campaign seeking $16,980 for building renovations, and met the goal in 15 days, ultimately raising $18,000. Construction is nearing completion, while Holland awaits licensing from the state. The storefront is not zoned for a bakery, so Holland will continue to bake the bread and bagels off-site.
The sandwich menu will include a “next level” avocado toast, a vegan BLT with carrot bacon and an herbed chickpea sandwich. A kids menu will include smaller slices of bread topped with nut butter, bananas and vegan Nutella or cashew grilled cheese.
In the meantime, loaves can be ordered for local pick-up at
Shuttered during the pandemic, Gatherings 4 Main Street, a new community center and vegetarian restaurant in Dexter, reopened this summer. It serves vegan lunches on Mondays and Wednesdays. Photo courtesy of Gatherings 4 Main Street
Vegan Gatherings in Dexter 
In the small Penobscot County town of Dexter, a community center serving vegan meals opened in 2019. But, like many things, it was shuttered by the pandemic. This summer, however, Ethan and Tiffany Wright moved from Tennessee to Maine with their two children to help reopen the community space, Gatherings 4 Main Street, named for the address, and restart the community meals, which are offered in exchange for a donation.
“When this closed because of the pandemic, people were sad to see it close down,” Ethan Wright said. “Before we reopened, my wife and I got to know everyone downtown, the local stores and the post office, to let them know we were opening. So when we opened we had a pretty warm reception.”
A trained chef, Tiffany Wright is in charge of the meals, which are served from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. The suggested donation is $8 per meal, and those without funds are welcome to eat for free.
One meal is offered per day, which have included crunch wraps, veggie burgers, falafel gyros, lasagna and enchiladas. One popular dish is the Taco Truck Burrito, filled with beans, rice, vegetables, guacamole, vegan sour cream and vegan cheese. All the meals are vegan, though diners can add cow’s milk cheese or sour cream.
“Another thing we’ve done once and been asked to do again is the noodle bar,” Ethan said. “We had two broths, ginger-garlic and coconut curry, a couple different styles of noodle, rice vermicelli and a flatter pad Thai-style noodle, and lots of veggies. We grill the veggies right there with the noodles and top with fresh pea shoots and seaweed sheets.”
The community center, which offers board games, puzzles, books and an indoor playground, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays thanks to the help of volunteers. If the Wrights find more volunteers, they could expand the hours. The veg-friendly Seventh-day Adventist Church, founded by Maine prophet Ellen G. White, helps fund the community center, and a weekly Bible study group meets in the space.
Next month, Gatherings is planning a Christmas cookie party, and the Wrights hope to be partnering with the town by January to host pop-up educational events.
Made from whole foods without refined sugar, Lokahi Foods vegan, gluten-free frozen desserts can be ordered from Fork Food Lab. Photo courtesy of Lokahi Foods and Vuk Multimedia
Nutrient-Dense Treats in Portland 
At Fork Food Lab in Portland, new dessert company Lokahi Foods is making vegan, gluten-free treats without refined sugar – the recipes rely on maple syrup and dates to sweeten instead. Lokahi (a Hawaiian word meaning “harmonious unity” and pronounced loh-kah-hee) grew from owner Jelena Cesljarac’s love of sweets and quest to improve her health.
Cesljarac, who immigrated to the United States from Serbia, first settled in North Dakota where she started a dessert company using traditional recipes from her mother’s bakery in Serbia.
“I was running that business for a while, and unfortunately I had to stop because I developed gut issues because of unbalanced nutrition,” Cesljarac said. “I had to quit processed sugar and most of the carbs. I started researching more about the effect sugar has on the body. I decided I cannot sell those products to customers and I had to close that company.”
Quitting refined sugar didn’t cure her sweet tooth and so when Cesljarac moved to Portland last year, she began mixing together nutrient-dense berries and nuts. Her friends tasted the treats and encouraged her, and she now sells them as frozen energy bites and energy cups, in flavors that include chocolate, coconut, chocolate hazelnut, raspberry lemon, triple berry and strawberry chocolate. She is working on specials for Christmas.
Cesljarac’s frozen desserts can be eaten straight from the freezer or allowed to soften in the refrigerator first. Order for pick-up or delivery at
Correction: Not vegan soft serve
Earlier this year, I reported the B&R Dairy Bar in Gray was serving 30 flavors of vegan soft serve and attracting a lot of new customers. Well, it turns out the manufacturer Newberry’s hadn’t disclosed the full ingredient list and the soft serve mix contains the cow’s milk protein, casein. When the scoop shop discovered this at the end of the season, it changed its signage to let customers know the soft serve wasn’t vegan after all. “I am sorry for the confusion,” owner Tom Murray said. The shop is closed for the season, but Murray said the supplier told him they are working on the product to make it truly vegan. Here’s hoping they’ll get rid of the cow’s milk protein by the time B&R Dairy Bar reopens in the spring.
Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at [email protected]
Twitter: @AveryYaleKamila
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