Fork Food Lab Acquired by New York-Based Foodworks

July 14, 2017

7:15 am

Fork Food Lab, the food-focused startup incubator in Portland, Maine has been acquired by Foodworks, a New York City-based company that operates two other culinary incubators in the northeast.

Neil Spillane and Eric Holstein founded Fork Food Lab last year, officially opening in September 2016, with a vision to boost Maine’s food economy by helping local entrepreneurs scale up their companies. In the nine months since Fork Food Lab opened, the number of member companies has increased from 10 to 34, according to Spillane. Those member companies have access to a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, direct feedback from customers through an adjacent tasting room, as well as marketing and legal advice. Current members include Fyood Kitchen, Urban Sugar, Plucked Fresh Salsa, White Cap Coffee, and North Spore Mushroom.

Neil Spillane (left) and Eric Holstein

While Spillane and Holstein sold 100 percent of the operating company, Fork Food Lab’s original group of investors and founders still own 100 percent of the real estate and are leasing it to Foodworks, according to Spillane, who declined to share financial details of the deal.

The acquisition won’t change anything on the ground in Portland. Fork Food Lab, which employs three people, is expected to retain its name and Spillane will stay on as general manager. Holstein, who already split his time between New York and Portland, will work out of Foodworks’ headquarters in Brooklyn.

The deal came about organically, Spillane said. He and Holstein had visited Foodworks’ incubator in Brooklyn last year when they were developing their own plan for Fork Food Lab. They liked the space and connected with Foodworks’ team, including CEO Nick Devane.

“We started talking about high-level goals and mission about five months ago and then the last three months the talks intensified into how to structure a partnership,” Spillane said.

The deal will benefit Fork Food Lab’s member companies, Spillane says, because they will now have opportunities to expand distribution into the large New York market and leverage supplier discounts that are available to current Foodworks producers. Another benefit is that Foodworks has a technology team focused on developing software to help streamline communication and sourcing for members.

“It was a win for all the stakeholders that have been on our journey so far—entrepreneurial companies at the incubator, owners, investors, and the community,” Spillane said. “We have always had it in the plans to replicate this model and open other facilities, this deal just allows us to do it much quicker by joining forces with another talented team, and bypass that time it would have taken for me to go out and raise a Series A.”

It also furthers the larger mission he and Holstein set out on when they launched Fork Food Lab.

“The local food system has a lot of problems that need to be solved,” Spillane said. “The startup phase of Fork was designed to knock down the biggest wall that I saw, which was access to affordable kitchen space that was curated for success. There are still other problems out there that take resources to solve, such as building out distribution and efficiently educating food entrepreneurs on how to scale. These problems make a lot more sense to solve at a national level with best-of-breed partners and technology Foodworks has already started building.”

Foodworks operates two food-focused incubators: one in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and another in Providence, R.I. Its Brooklyn facility currently hosts 110 member companies.

“Foodworks is incredibly excited about merging with Fork Food Lab. In spending time with Eric and Neil over the last few months, it was obvious how values- and vision-aligned our teams were,” Devane, CEO of Foodworks, said in a statement. “We deeply admire everything they, together with their community, have built thus far. We look forward to learning from each other and continuing to build towards changing the face of entrepreneurship in the food space.”

Read more about startup founders in Maine at TechCo

Photo courtesy of Fork Food Lab

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Whit Richardson is a former daily newspaper journalist in Portland, Maine, who has covered business and entrepreneurship for the past decade. He's founder of Maine Startups Insider and currently editor-in-chief of 4Front Publishing, an online news startup covering the nascent legal cannabis industry.