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Entrepreneur Rory Strunk Wants Maine Food Industry to Take Control of its Image

And he needs your help to get the O'Maine Media Kitchen off the ground. See why you should consider his request, and who's already on board with the unique space.

O'Maine Media Kitchen, 54 Danforth Street, Portland.
O'Maine Media Kitchen, 54 Danforth Street, Portland.
Adam H. Callaghan

Last week it was Blue Current Brewery crowdsourcing its sake production facility in Kittery. Just days after the owners spoke with Eater, the campaign was selected as a Kickstarter Staff Pick, which helped push funding over the $33,000 target. With less than 24 hours remaining, owners Dan and Phyllis Ford are looking at stretch goals, including $45,000 to buy more rice, kegs, and bottles to expand the company's reach.

This week it's O'Maine Studios seeking $65,000 for the finalization of the O'Maine Media Kitchen in Portland, described in campaign materials as "a place for chefs, foodies, agencies, and food & beverage companies to create content and share it with the world." The company is located at 54 Danforth Street, which used to house Cranberry Island Kitchen (now in Freeport), which means much of the costly kitchen infrastructure is already in place.

O'Maine founder Rory Strunk was the main force behind other Maine start-ups such as RSN (Resort Sports Network), Aura 360, and Stackbox, according to a press release. Some of the uses he envisions for the O'Maine Media Kitchen are listed on a sign on the building that houses the project: Commercial demonstration kitchen; culinary content production; chef hosted demonstrations; cooking courses; food photography classes; food styling classes; mixology, beer, and wine courses. The space is already drawing business from Maine College of Art (MECA) for its new culinary arts program, reported on recently by Bangor Daily News.

Eater asked Strunk to explain more about why locals should support his vision, and what kind of partnerships he's developed beyond the one with MECA.

What are some companies and people you are already partnering with? What have their experiences, responses, and feedback been like?
The seed for the idea of the media kitchen was developed out of partnerships I have with national food and beverage brands. As our work with these brands began to grow, it quickly became apparent that some of the basic tools, such as a kitchen to create great food and beverage content, did not exist in Maine. That inspired us to reach out to leading food and beverage companies like Shipyard, Pine State Vending, Bar Harbor Foods, Sodexo, and Barney Butter to help validate the local need to build a media kitchen. Almost instantly these introduction led to other intros and blossomed into several levels of partnerships such as the cooking classes with MECA.

It is one thing to have a vision, it is another thing if that vision becomes owned by others. What is really empowering is to see how quickly the companies and people in the food and beverage business come to understand the asset of a media kitchen: What it can do for them as well as the state and their willingness to jump into the frying pan to help us make it happen.

Did you use traditional funding to get this far with O'Maine Studios? What made you turn to Kickstarter (instead of banks or investors) for the media kitchen project?
We built Phase One of the media kitchen with our own internal funds. I thought it was important to show people the basic model and demonstrate we had real skin in the game. The success stories created on Kickstarter clearly happen because the contributors believe in the product, the people, and the mission. It is an incredible way of validating the basic business model.  My concern going into this was that the people of Maine might not really understand what a media kitchen can do to propel the food and beverage industry of Maine. So we have been really focused on creating partnerships and educating people on the value of a media kitchen. A media kitchen gives us the ability to take control of storytelling, create endless content (created by any and all that want to participate), and push it out to the public, which is liberating and powerful.

There were a couple of reasons to turn to Kickstarter. Number one is that bank funding and even state grants are not set up to fund business models based on content creation. It is hard for traditional funding sources to wrestle with minimal fixed assets.

In researching on Kickstarter, there is enough history to validate what has been funded and if any of those models relate to what we are creating. There was a media kitchen in California similar to our model of creating a studio kitchen that provided low cost access for the creation of food and beverage content for all public, private, and educator interests. That project raised $150,000...but that is California, not Maine. Also validating was the local success of Vinland's campaign to raise $60,000, seeing Mainers investing in a local food entrepreneur that is trying to push the model. That is exactly what we are doing.

If for some reason the all-or-nothing campaign is unsuccessful, what happens next?
We are a small state that is not exactly known for risk-taking and pushing the envelope, so not meeting the funding goal is a real risk. Right now we have these wonderful national and regional food brands willing to bring their content creation needs to Portland and the media kitchen. What I worry most about is the bandwagon philosophy...if we don't get local support, how can we expect to grow regional and national support? If we do get the get local support I firmly believe the flood gates will open.

It's too early to tell what is going to happen, but we have already achieved an amazing benchmark: On day two the O'Maine Media Kitchen was selected as a "Staff Pick" by the Kickstarter organization. It seems huge to us that out of the 181,000 live projects less than .5% are bestowed a "Staff Pick."

Yesterday we had our biggest single day jump in funding, so the curve seems to be going in the right direction.