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DIRIGO STORIES: Shared kitchen cooking up collaboration in Portland

PORTLAND (WGME) -- A new space in Portland's Bayside neighborhood can never have too many cooks in the kitchen.

Fork Food Lab, a shared commercial kitchen, is creating a space for chefs to create and collaborate.

"The amazing thing about this space is that you can be here at 2 in the morning if you need to," said Marcia Wiggins, owner of Cape Whoopies, a whoopie pie producer whose business is starting to outgrow the commercial kitchen she built in her home.

Wiggins is one of 25 members at Fork Food Lab which opened last summer. Producers pay rent to gain access to industrial commercial kitchen equipment in a shared space.

"There's a vision when you start a company and then there's reality and to see those two match up is what you work so hard for," said Fork Food Lab Founder and CEO Neil Spillane.

Spillane, formerly CEO of Urban Farm Fermentory, and Eric Holstein, a former food cart owner in New York City, teamed up to create the shared kitchen space and remodeled the building -- once a bakery and boxing club.

The concept of a shared kitchen isn't new, but Spillane and Holstein took it one step further. In addition to the kitchen, they also opened a tasting room, creating a direct line between chefs starting or maintaining their own small business, and potential customers.

"The hardest part is business development and the marketing side," Holstein said. "This creates that small platform for marketing."

The chefs agree. Marshmallow Cart Owner Madison Gouzie says it's been the perfect spot to make his product.

"I have all my equipment that can be stored, I have access to equipment that I wouldn't be able to afford as a small business," Gouzie said.

The shared kitchen has also led to collaboration between members. Gouzie is making an espresso flavored marshmallow with White Cap Coffee, another Fork Food Lab Member. Wiggins is experimenting with making savory whoopie pies with Plucked Salsa.

"People are interested in other people's products," said Holstein. "People are helping with sampling, sharing resources. That's the most exciting part of it all."

As for allergies, the members who make food for distribution need to follow the labeling rules established by the Maine Department of Agriculture. The kitchen is not certified gluten-free, but there are several chefs who make gluten-free products. Spillane says those products can only say "made with gluten free ingredients" on packaging.

The tasting room is open Fridays and Saturdays in the winter. Fork Food Lab is actively recruiting more members. They hope to grow to 45 members by summer 2017.

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