Building a hub for food

By JEFF INGLIS  |  January 9, 2013

That led to delays, which meant the countertop-maker dropped out, but ultimately that change made life easier; he found a beginning cheesemaker who wanted to rent some space — which put the entire building back into just one use (food prep) and on familiar regulatory ground.

But even that confusion wasn't as bad as the mess Cayer found in the space itself. "I pressure-washed the floors like six times," he says with a grimace, recalling a six-inch-deep mess of grime, oil, and other disgustingness piled up in the back corner after the first round of pressure-washing. After all, it had been a taxi garage. "Cars parked here for a decade," Cayer notes, pointing to areas of the concrete floor that have been worn down by traffic and eaten away by chemicals. "It was gross."

After the second pressure-wash, it was time for a degreaser. And then, yes, more pressure-washing. It was not the only work needing doing: the roof needed some repairs and a paint job; old electrical and phone wires snaked through the open rafters overhead (Cayer got $200 from a scrap-metal yard when he'd finished yanking it all out).

Nevertheless, by September Cayer had the bakery and cheesemaker tenants committed and permitting under way. "Then it was sort of figuring out the layout and trying to find contractors" to build out the space.

Cayer in the bright natural light with the finished framing

In October, another snafu arose. The cheesemaker, Rachel Lauriat, learned she couldn't actually work in the new space. A creamery needs intensive plumbing (you'd be surprised at how much liquid is involved in making tasty solids), and those requirements were more than was available on site. Adding the pipes would come at a huge cost Lauriat was hoping to avoid.

And then there was the ventilation. Beyond working with huge kettles and steam systems that require good air flow, the product itself can be picky. The final step in cheese-making is ripening, working with live cultures that require specific ranges of humidity, temperature, and air circulation speeds. Not surprisingly, advanced ventilation control like that wasn't already installed and waiting in the former industrial warehouse and loading dock (along a disused railroad bed) — and the situation was complicated by the potential for other live organisms to be in the air from the bakery (live bread yeasts) and fermentory (fermenting yeasts and related bacteria).

Without direct access to a window, and without the landlord's permission to ventilate through the roof, Lauriat was out of luck. She calls the decision "quite disappointing," and is still looking for a workable space in Portland. The bakery, and the popsicle-maker who would eventually come in to take her place, she says, "need way less plumbing and ventilation than I do." And even though she won't be an immediate neighbor, Lauriat is still working with Momentum to plan some cheese-making workshops for that agency's clients.

With Lauriat out, Bomb Diggity decided to revamp its floor plan to save some money, which delayed construction some more. And Cayer had to network like crazy to find someone to fill the empty spot.

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  Topics: Food Features , Forest City, Eli Cayer
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