Martin Beavers, owner of Soul Food Paradise, prepares catfish at Fork Food Lab June 11 in Portland. Beavers will be participating in Fork's Summer Sampler Series, which launches June 23. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)
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Fork Food Lab is inviting the public to the first of three Summer Sampler Series events next week at the shared-kitchen and food business incubator.

For the first time in several months, Fork will host events June 23, July 21, and Aug. 18 from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. in its parking lot at 72 Parris St. in Bayside.

Amy Sinclair, director of communications at Fork, said the samplers will be a hybrid between a farmer’s market, party, and tasting event. 

With Maine pandemic restrictions mostly lifted, Sinclair said she thinks the timing is ideal.

Ellie Tucker, owner of Portland-based health food vendor Joyful Spirit, makes coconut cardamom almond bars at Fork Food Lab June 11. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)

“We realized our members are hungry for this kind of interaction,” she said last week. “I think the community is also really anxious to reemerge and get together for a fun summer outing.” 

The first Summer Sampler will feature 13 food lab members offering what Sinclair called a “bite-sized” taste of something they cooked. Roughly half of the members will also be selling $5 small plates for visitors to take home.

Tickets for the Summer Sampler Series are $10 for one event or $25 to attend all three. Included in the admission price is a complimentary beer, wine, or seltzer, and a Fork Food Lab tote bag to carry the evening’s goodies.

“It was our hope that people would come to sip, sample and shop,” Sinclair said. “Then they would come to have a drink but then will also buy something to support (the members).” 

Vendors for the first sampler include Soul Food Paradise, a new Fork member offering Cajun fare like homemade macaroni and cheese, catfish, and cornbread; Latin American restaurant Empanada Club; vegan caterer S+P Plant-Based Foods, and Ethiopian cuisine vendor Niyat Catering.

Fork Food Lab is at 72 Parris St. in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood. (Portland Phoenix/Ilana Williams)

Initially, Sinclair said, staff at Fork considered hosting a weekly farmer’s market this summer, but because many of its members have several jobs, scheduling proved too difficult.

The Summer Sampler events will be held outdoors, and Sinclair said fully vaccinated patrons will not be required to wear masks – although vendors will be masked. She also said advance tickets will be capped at 150 people to ensure that admission will be available to same-day customers.

Before the pandemic, Sinclair said, Fork used to host events for 400 or 500 people at a time, and she believes each summer series event could easily attract 250 attendees.

Those unable to attend the sampler can also support Fork by purchasing from their online marketplace, A Taste of Fork. The store features frozen and shelf products including meals, hot sauces, snacks, and desserts, and was launched last year as a way to help the food lab survive the pandemic

Sinclair said she hopes the Summer Sampler Series gives people an opportunity to get better acquainted with what Fork has to offer.

“What I hope is that in making the rounds at the sampler (they will) come to understand the diversity among our members,” she said, “and (the options) that are available through Fork Food Lab.” 

Staff writer Elizabeth Clemente contributed.