A roundup of the state's vegan news.
Spring remains weeks away, yet vegan and vegetarian ventures keep popping up across the state. Here’s a look at the latest in Maine veg news.
Demand has pushed Heiwa Tofu in Rockport to its limits, shipping between 10,000 and 12,000 pounds of tofu each week to retailers and restaurants. The plant-based protein business is hoping to qualify for an infrastructure expansion grant from the state to expand its production capacity.
Fans of the Pepperclub, a long-running, very vegan-friendly Portland restaurant that closed in 2014, can once again sample food created by chef/owner Mary Ledue Paine, who has taken over as the head chef at the Portland Food Co-op. Her recent vegan grab-and-go creations include sesame baked tofu satay, tempeh spring rolls, roasted buffalo cauliflower wraps, sweet potato black bean burgers and dark chocolate coconut mousse.
On Valentine’s Day, Ruby’s West End in Portland offered a vegan tasting menu with wine pairings. Meanwhile, in the Public Market House in Monument Square, The Frying Dutchman opened on the second floor in January with an all-vegetarian menu of Dutch-style fries cooked in vegetable oil and served in paper cones topped with house-made mayos (including vegan choices), sauces and chopped onions. On Saturdays, the menu expands to include the vegan Florentine Benny made from sautéed spinach, tofu scramble and vegan hollandaise sauce. The restaurant’s all-veg status could change, but if the Frying Dutchman adds animal-based meat to the menu, the owners say they intend to keep one of its fryers vegan and gluten-free.
At the University of Maine, a new student group called UMaine Earthlings, led by Kelsey Conley of Sanford, has formed to raise awareness of animal exploitation and advocate for the university to serve more vegan meals and less animal-based meat. UMaine Earthlings continues a long tradition of student advocacy for more plant-based choices at the flagship campus, going back to at least the 1970s. In 2015, a previous student group, the Vegan Education & Empowerment Coalition, persuaded the university to add more vegan dishes to the dining hall menus.
Over at the all-vegetarian Good Life Center in Brooksville, the former homestead of vegetarian activists Helen and Scott Nearing, Kevin O’Hanlon is the new farm manager, and he will help the organization seek a national historic designation for the notable property.
Across the state, Maine Restaurant Week is in full swing and, as usual, many Maine restaurants are offering vegan meal deals. The event’s website allows users to search for participating restaurants that offer vegan choices, and at last count, 30 had indicated they would.
With love from Westbrook
Maine’s newest veggie burger is the GráKake, made in Westbrook and available in sesame scallion lemongrass, Southwest and ginger carrot coconut flavors. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila
For a moment, I thought the GráKake veggie burgers, which had just arrived at my door, were health food cookies. The oats in the burgers are so visible and the packaging so distinctive, it was hard to see them as burgers. Once I pan-fried them, I fell head over heels for their taste.
As a veggie burger fan from way back, I really appreciate the GráKake’s firm texture and range of bold flavors, such as the sesame scallion lemongrass burgers, delicious grilled and served alongside a slaw of cabbage and onions drizzled in tamari and fermented hot sauce. The burgers also come in Southwest and ginger-carrot-coconut flavors. Each flavor is available in vegan or vegetarian varieties.
GráKakes represent the latest project of artist, University of Southern Maine professor, river advocate and Westbrook City Councilor Michael Shaughnessy. Last month, he had a larger oven installed in his commercial kitchen, and now Shaughnessy, his son Theo Shaughnessy, and one part-time employee are ready to increase production and are starting to sell online.
The GraKake was born in the 1980s out of a breakfast of matzo brei (eggs and matzo fried together) at a Jewish deli in New York City. That classic Passover dish morphed into one egg scrambled with crumbled saltines and cheese for four young boys. Decades later, the young family has evolved into four generations in one Westbrook home. Now, with their summer kitchen turned into a commercial kitchen, the eggs and matzo evolved to become – believe it or not – oat and vegetable veggie burgers.
Each package of GráKake burgers comes with a colorful flourish of original art, hand painted by Shaughnessy. In the summer, some of the vegetables in the burgers are grown in the nearby kitchen garden. The burgers are wheat-free but not certified gluten-free.
Until now, the burgers have been a part-time endeavor. “I’ve so many different irons in the fire that it’s been a very long germination period,” Shaughnessy said. But that’s changing. Local shops selling the veggie burgers include Town Landing Market in Falmouth, Royal River Natural Foods in Freeport, Bath Natural Market in Bath, Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Scarborough and Frinklepod Farm in Arundel. The Mast Landing Brewing Company tasting rooms in Westbrook and Freeport sell the burgers, too.
The name GráKake blends the Irish word for love with the Norwegian word for cake, representing the combined ancestries of Shaughnessy and his wife, Malory Otteson Shaughnessy. GráKake joins a growing community of Maine veggie burger companies, which now numbers at least six and includes two based in Westbrook. The trajectory excites Shaughnessy. “It’s almost like a craft beer sort of thing that is locally made and has potential,” he said.
What an idea! Following the lead of craft beer, could a Maine Veggie Burger Guild or a Maine Veggie Burger Trail be in our future? With the dynamic Shaughnessy and his GráKakes now on team veggie burger, anything is possible.
Smoothies, with a helping of Grateful Dead
The Grateful Cup is a new all-vegetarian juice and smoothie shop on Veranda Street in Portland’s East Deering neighborhood. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila
February may not be the ideal time to open a juice and smoothie shop in Maine, but sometimes the best-laid plans go awry. After delays pushed the opening of The Grateful Cup from late summer to early fall to deep winter, the shop finally opened its doors last month. The shop is on Veranda Street in East Deering in Portland; the location was previously a branch of Union Bagel.
“It’s the coldest few weeks of the year, and it’s not smoothie weather for everyone,” manager Samantha Allen said. “However, we’ve seen repeat customers, and that’s a really good sign.”
Allen also manages the nearby Float Harder relaxation center, and she, co-worker Jess Rexford and owners Amy and James Harder opened the smoothie shop because they wanted a place in the neighborhood to grab juices, salads and smoothies while at work.
“We thought weekends would be our strong suit, but we didn’t realize there is a school bus stop in our parking lot,” said Allen. “We get a bunch of little kids and moms in the morning. Then we have a big rush at the end of the day.” The shop is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and may expand its hours when summer arrives.
All menu items at the Grateful Cup are named for the Grateful Dead, such as the Berry Garcia and Tropicali Blues smoothies; Cosmic Carrot and Fire on the Mountain (with cayenne pepper) juices; and the Curry Cat Sunflower (chickpea curry) and The Promised Land (spinach, avocado and pickled red onion) salads. The smoothies can be mixed with almond, soy or oat milk, and the shop sells coffee from Swift River Roasters. A few items contain honey, but can be veganized.
Soon the shop will add outdoor seating to create the perfect spot for – wait for it – a sunshine daydream.
Hunter’s Stew takes on a whole new meaning
When Maine native Angela Higgins returned home in 2020 and settled in Greenville after many years in Arizona, she badly missed smoothie shops and health food restaurants. So she opened one of her own – Boja’s Bungalow, an all-vegetarian, mostly vegan restaurant located in-town across from Moosehead Lake and next to Jamo’s Pizza.
“We opened in September and then closed for a month of shoulder season and we reopened for winter,” Higgins said. “I wasn’t certain if the winters were going to be our jam. But oddly enough, I get a lot of customers.”
The restaurant attracts tourists, but Higgins said even in winter it’s been “crazy busy” because she is getting “more business than I expected from the locals in a hunting town.”
Tacos, burritos and quinoa bowls are always on offer. Other menu items shift with the seasons. Right now, the menu features grilled sandwiches, roasted vegetables and soups. Soon it will shift its focus to fruits, berries, salads and raw dishes. Boja’s Bungalow also sells two flavors of oat milk soft serve ice cream year round.
No organic produce distributors deliver to Greenville, Higgins said, so she drives three hours to Topsham to pick up certified organic supplies. In the summer, the restaurant relies on deliveries from two local farms.
Winter hours are 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day except Wednesdays and Sundays. This summer, the restaurant will be open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., with extended hours on Thursday and Friday nights.
Boja’s Bungalow is a tribute to Higgins’ beloved dog Boja, who died in 2021. He was a rescue who loved Higgins’ vegan burritos and breakfast sandwiches.
Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at
Social Media: AveryYaleKamila
Editor’s Note: A vegan pop-up originally planned for next weekend by the Florida-based Oh My Cod Vegan Seafood – it was to have been held at Lovebird doughnuts in Kittery – has been postponed. No new date has been set for the event.
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