Food vendor sought for The Castle at Portland’s Deering Oaks

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PORTLAND — Serve it and they will come.

That is the premise behind a collaboration between the city and Friends of Deering Oaks to bring a food vendor back to The Castle, the restored brick building at the edge of the park on State Street.

Troy Moon, the city’s manager of environmental programs and open spaces, and Friends President Anne Pringle are leading the effort. Moon wrote a solicitation letter, and the Friends posted it on Facebook. People who indicated their interest on a sign-up sheet last year have also been contacted.

“We don’t want to limit ideas, we are not food service professionals,”  Moon said Jan. 29.

Proposals will be accepted until 3 p.m. Feb. 16.

“The objective is to provide food and beverage service for as many days a week, for as many hours a day, and for as many days a year as is feasible for an operator,” the letter said.

Last year, Norine Kotts, who with her partner, Cheryl Lewis, was an original owner of Aurora Provisions on Pine Street and helped develop El Rayo Taquieria on York Street, operated Cafe at the Castle each Saturday from mid-June through mid-October. The 7 a.m.-1 p.m. hours coincided with the farmers market at the park.

Kotts said she opened the cafe after years of support from Anne and Harry Pringle at her other ventures.

”It was never my intention to do this and see if this was a good fit for me,” she said. “The goal of the whole exercise was to bring awareness to the building.”

This year, she is ready to step aside, and is convinced expanded food service will be a success.

“I think it is a great opportunity with someone with an open mind and a willingness to be right there in the community,” Kotts said.

Moon said some minor modifications, including a sink installation, could be considered. However, large-scale alterations to the building are not a part of the plan. Alcohol sales would also be considered, but would require City Council approval.

Moon and Pringle said the intent is to present proposals to the city Parks Commission in early March. City officials and Friends members would likely review the solicitations.

“The people who will make this work are the ones used to working in small spaces,” Pringle said.

A vendor would sign a lease agreement that may also be subject to City Council approval. Last year, Kotts donated all profits to the Friends, but Moon and Pringle are looking for a for-profit business this year.

“In the beginning, I went around picking up pastries from vendors,” she said. “Eventually, everyone started delivering to me.”

‘Everyone’ included local support from Ten Ten Pie, Bam Bam Bakery, Standard Baking Co. and Cape Elizabeth’s C Salt Market, with coffee from Coffee by Design.

The Castle, built in 1895, was not a part of the park’s original plans. Constructed at a cost of $900, it was designed by local architect Frederick Thompson as a place to escape both winter cold and summer rains. Inside were stained glass windows and a fireplace.

In 1954, it was converted to restrooms and the windows and fireplace were removed. In 1999, Pringle said the city and Friends began planning a restoration that was completed in 2005 at a cost of $700,000, with $300,000 raised privately by the Friends.

“Right from the beginning, we wanted to use this for simple food service,” said Pringle, a former councilor and mayor.

The Castle has a 435-square-foot main room and two restrooms that meet accessibility requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The bathrooms must remain open to the public while the vendor is operating. Outdoor seating is also a possibility. The building and park are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Moon and Pringle would like service to continue through the winter.

“If someone wants to operate all year, we would encourage it,” Moon said.

Interested vendors can write to Moon at 55 Portland St., Portland, ME 04101, or thm@portlandmaine.gov.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Anne Pringle, left, of the Friends of Deering Oaks, and city official Troy Moon hope to find a vendor to sell food at the 500-square-foot Castle at Deering Oaks Park in Portland.

Baked goods from local businesses were sold when The Castle opened on Saturdays from June through mid-October last year.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.