Portland, Maine

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Good things brewing in an old scrap yard (part 1)

Wedged between I-295 and the bottom of Munjoy Hill on the northern tip of the Portland peninsula is the East Bayside industrial area, a triangle-shaped district of warehouses and contractors' shops. There's lots of workspace available there, and it's still relatively cheap, which means it's attracting a growing number of small businesses run by young entrepreneurs.

I live a couple blocks up the hill from this area, and for the past few weeks my wife and I have occasionally stopped in to visit Will and Kathleen Pratt (pictured above) as they prepared the space for their new business, Tandem Coffee Roasters. Will and Kathleen, along with buddy Vien Dobui, moved to Portland this past winter from Brooklyn, where all three had worked for the legendary Blue Bottle Coffee company. Kathleen had managed Blue Bottle's Mint Plaza shop in San Francisco before moving east to manage the company's east coast expansion into Brooklyn; Will was one of the company's roasters, and Vien was in charge of the company's training and research.

While Portland already has a wealth of high-quality local coffee shops, the trio noted that there weren't many roasters focused on high-end wholesale coffee for the city's restaurants, and they moved here early this spring with plans to establish their own roasting company in a year or two. But when a real estate broker showed them the mid-century brick industrial building on Anderson Street — a former office for a scrap metal recycling business — they decided to go for it, and open up a small retail coffee shop of their own in the light-filled corner room at the front of the building (pictured above).

Will also happens to be an excellent fine carpenter, and the three of them have done an amazing job finishing the space with beautifully joined counters and shelves, with pride of place for a vintage hi-fi system. It's a really lovely place to hang out for a while.

Yesterday afternoon, at the end of their opening day, I tried a taste of their malt-sweetened ice coffee, which was amazingly rich and refreshing (I'm no food writer, so my words feel inadequate to do it justice, but let it suffice to say that as I write this from my home office, it's incredibly difficult to finish the sentence without getting up and walking across the neighborhood for another cup).

So how do three people with some of the nation's best coffee-making resumes end up moving from San Francisco and Brooklyn to Portland, Maine?

"Portland had a little bit of everything we loved about the other cities where we'd lived — the coast, the outdoors, the great restaurants — but with a small-town feel," says Kathleen. "We're closer to family here, and its just easier to start a business of our own than it would be in New York City."

If you're in town, take a bike ride down the Bayside Trail to thank Will, Kathleen, and Vien for moving here, and treat yourself to a delicious beverage. They're open weekdays from 7 am to 2 pm, plus Saturdays from 8 am to 3 pm, at 122 Anderson Street.

In tomorrow's post, I'll tell you about Tandem's next-door neighbor, Bunker Brewing Company, which takes its own high-craft approach to beer brewing. Stay tuned.

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