About the Program
In November 2016, PROPEL, CEI, Fork Food Lab, Maine Access Immigrant Network, and the Maine Public Health Association collaborated to co-host a promotional Taste the World event to bring together the increasingly diverse Greater Portland community over a shared love of food. The success of that event, made possible by sponsorship from Live and Work in Maine, led to the development of the New Mainer Culinary Entrepreneur Program, which supports immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs in the culinary field in Maine through a multi-pronged approach.
This approach includes promotion at regular Taste the World community building events, and the provision of the New Mainer Culinary Entrepreneur Scholarship that covers the cost of a three month membership at Fork Food Lab, ServeSafe Certification, Department of Agriculture License, and insurance for one year. It also includes business support from CEI’s Start Smart program, a program that offers free, confidential business counseling for New Americans starting or expanding a business in Maine.
The overarching vision of the New Mainer Culinary Entrepreneur Program is that Maine is a welcoming state that offers New Mainers the opportunity to: succeed in their personal and business endeavors, connect with the local community, and share their cultural traditions and values. We believe food is a valuable cultural broker for building connections in Maine’s increasingly diverse community. The funds for the New Mainer Culinary Entrepreneur Scholarship are raised during PROPEL's Taste the World events, part of PROPEL's In Focus Series.
As the first recipient of the New Mainer Culinary Entrepreneur Scholarship, Aklilu Tsaedu, owner of Niyat Catering, was able to launch his Ethiopian catering business at Fork Food Lab.
“Without the scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to start. Everything really worked well. I don’t expect to continue to get help, but the little jumpstart has allowed me to get going,” said Tsaedu.
When he moved to Maine 12 years ago from his home country, Ethiopia, he quickly learned that people were looking for a variety of healthy foods. His love for cooking traditional Ethiopian food, which is known for being very nutritious, coupled with the opportunity he saw in Portland, was what made him want to start a food business.
With support from CEI’s Start Smart program, he developed a business plan to begin with catering, rather than his initial idea to open a restaurant. He received a microloan from CEI which allowed him to supplement the Scholarship and purchase kitchen equipment and pay for a catering license and some other startup costs.
Tsaedu began selling his food at Portland Adult Education, and at local events including the annual Festival of Nations and CEI’s 40th Anniversary Celebration, all of which gave him some visibility in the community. Being a member at Fork Food Lab has also provided exposure for the business without paying money for advertising. “Fork always has events and open houses for visibility,” he said. “It is a wonderful kitchen and a very good place to work.” Tsaedu’s success has allowed him to continue on as a member of Fork Food Lab after his scholarship has ended.
Tsaedu’s food will be featured at this year’s Taste the World event on November 8th at Fork Food Lab. The event will be sponsored by Machias Savings Bank as a part of their sponsorship of PROPEL’s In Focus Series.
The Next Event:
The next Taste the World event will be on November 8th, 2018 from 5:30 - 8:00pm at Fork Food Lab. As in the past, a variety of local New Mainer entrepreneurs and chefs will be serving culinary delights at this year's event. The event will serve as a fundraiser to make another New Mainer Entrepreneur Scholarship available. This year's In Focus Series sponsor, Machias Savings Bank, has offered to generously match up to $1,250 in funds raised at the event, and invites others to join in offering matching donations. Tickets are available online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/propel-in-focus-event-taste-the-world-tickets-50741557364.
The 2018 - 2019 In Focus Series Sponsor is Machias Savings Bank.
To learn more about the program or related sponsorship opportunities, please fill out the below contact form: