Meghan Kirschbaum remembers the day she went to Kohl’s with her mother to buy a new stand-up mixer for their kitchen. Together, they looked at each make and model, compared features and eventually decided on a sturdy Kitchen Aid they knew would serve them long and well. Kirschbaum, now 24, was in elementary school at the time and had no idea just how long or how good its service would be.
Now retro-chic, the mixer sits on a counter in Kirschbaum’s recently licensed commercial kitchen where she bakes. Conveniently located in her rental apartment in Portland’s Parkside neighborhood, the process from scratch-to-sale in a rental unit has landlord approval.
Kirschbaum found the process of getting her kitchen licensed through the Maine Department of Agriculture to be easier than expected. After speaking with the department for specifics of how to prep the space, she scheduled an appointment with an inspector. The state looks to be sure she follows strict guidelines of keeping surfaces sanitized, using germicidal bleach and meeting other safety concerns. Passing handily, the baker says the twenty-dollar, one-time fee is a deal.
The name of Kirschbaum’s baking business is Mellifluous (mel-LIF-lu-ous), which according to Merriam-Webster is an adjective meaning “1. having a smooth, rich flow 2. filled with something (such as honey) that sweetens.” Leaning heavily on a “killer banana bread” recipe developed in college, she makes other cakes and specialty items including impossible-to-find egg bagels. Kirschbaum’s products are well received both as gifts and as sale items at community pop-up events where she is licensed to sell.
But baking for profit isn’t her primary motivation.
“I learned really young, from my mom, that baking is a lovely pastime that helps me make other people happy,” she explained. “It’s been a release for a long time. But, best of all, baking is a great way to be a bigger part of my neighborhood and community. To get to know people and to make new friends. And, to work together in community fashion to help the planet.”
Kirschbaum is currently completing a graduate program in policy, planning and management at University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School. She’s worked extensively with Friends of Woodfords Corner in a social media capacity and works with the Garbage to Garden curbside composing service. Matters of environmental conservation and problem solving are paramount.
“In 2018, 28 percent of all waste in the U.S. was packaging or containers,” Kirschbaum said, citing an EPA report. She is aware that moving away from wasteful packaging is progressing slowly, but advertising agencies know visual presentation is appealing to a consumer-driven society. Hoping to be part of the progress, Kirschbaum will be using recyclable materials for Mellifluous. Using butcher paper and twine, customers who don’t have recycling options can bring the packaging back to her and she’ll gladly dispose of it in an earth-friendly manner.
Ultimately, the dream goal would be to open a cooperative store similar to the Portland Food Co-op, but on a larger scale. Nothing would be packaged and everything would be sourced thoughtfully and locally. The business model is similar to BD Provisions in Newtown and Milford, Conn., which is a franchise concept selling food in bulk in sustainable containers.
As for Mellifluous, Kirschbaum already buys flour, sugar, grains and spices in bulk and is gearing up for the holidays. Approached (and compensated) by Yelp Maine, Mellifluous will be featured in a multi-day holiday giveaway promotion. She’s also spreading the word through social media and will be selling at pop-ups in the upcoming Oddfellows Bazaar and Shops and Hops at Portland’s Liquid Riot Bottling Co.
Still close with her mother, Kirschbaum says she hopes Mellifluous is a success. But, baking for pleasure and gifting to friends and neighbors won’t stop. Just like the days when the Kitchen Aid was brand new.
“I never get tired of seeing people’s faces light up when they get a banana bread or almond loaf,” she said. “Really, baking is my love language.”
Natalie Haberman Ladd is an award-winning columnist, freelance writer, and Portland restaurant veteran. She loves Boston sports, California cabernets, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. Reach her at [email protected].