It’s been a long, strange road from graphic designer, to marketing and public relations dude, all the way to owner of a tiny food truck located in a small town in coastal Maine, spanning from New Haven to NYC to a fishing village in Mexico to the San Fernando Valley, and back again. Here are a few highlights:
After meeting my wife, Jillian, at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Connecticut, my career as a graphic designer took me to New York City in the early 2000s, right around the time the dotcom industry went from minting a new 20 year old millionaire every five minutes, to completely collapsing upon itself in a spectacular pile of flaming venture capital rubble.
After leaping from one struggling company to another for years, I escaped across the river to New Jersey, where I found stability with a small marketing company specializing in direct-to-consumer sales. Though I spent part of the week in the office, the Marketing Director of the company and I grew very comfortable working remotely together, and in 2006, I gathered Jillian, the few odds and ends that a couple in their 20s in an expensive city could carry with them, and we moved sight unseen to Merida, Mexico.
We spent nearly five years exploring the Yucatan, immersing ourselves totally in the culture there, while continuing to work remotely for companies here in the United States. Those years were, in short, some of the best I have had in my whole life, filled with lessons and stories too numerous to recount here (though you can read all you’d like in the archived blog we kept at the time, called “Dropped In“). Let me take you out for a beer sometime, and I’ll tell you all about it.
As much as I loved being perhaps the youngest expatriates in Mexico, life abroad has its share of challenges, particularly as our lives turned toward thoughts of marriage, and family. So in 2010, Jillian and I moved back to the States, essentially flipping a coin between resettling in Portland, OR or Portland, ME. Though I grew up in Maine, I had spent very little time in Portland, Maine’s most cosmopolitan hub. After years of struggling just to make ourselves understood during everyday interactions conducted entirely in a foreign language, resettling in Maine seemed so easy, a familiar place to both Jillian and I, that would give us a big cozy hug, a cup of clam chowder, and welcome us home to New England.
In those days, I was still a six-times-daily checker of email, juggling dozens of different web projects and ideas that I was convinced would be “the next big thing.” I still related to the world mostly through my computer screen, and it seemed natural to explore our new city in the way we are used to, as quasi-reporters documenting our lives for an imaginary audience. And mostly, just looking for new ways to try and be funny on the internet. A (longstanding) obsession with sandwiches and a (newfound) interest in photography were enough reason to start From Away, our first food blog.
During our time in Mexico, we began to learn to cook not just as a hobby, but out of necessity. As our homesickness grew, our lack of access to some of the comforts of home (like water-boiled bagels, Chinese takeout, or a slice of really, really good pizza) became an area of focus. We learned to recreate these things we missed from home. With From Away (a phrase Mainers use to describe anyone not born in the state), we began to share thoughts on some of our favorite Maine restaurants, roadside food stands, and seafood shacks, as well as those favorite recipes for comfort food from around the world that we developed during our time away.
I began working in 2013 as a Social Media Strategist for a powerhouse of a social media marketing agency, called “Dream Local Digital,” headquartered in Rockland, Maine but with clients nationwide. Meanwhile, as our blog picked up steam, we were fortunate to get to work as contributors with many different publications. Our writing, photos, and recipes have been featured online on The Guardian, Serious Eats, NBC’s “Today” Show, Grub Street, Food & Wine, The Huffington Post, Thrillist, Ladies Home Journal, Bon Appetit, Eater, Blog Her, Urbanspoon, and the LA Weekly, as well as in print for Down East, Indulge, Cigar Snob, Portland Magazine, and in the book, “Blog Design for Dummies“ by Melissa Culbertson.
In 2013, we were honored and humbled to be selected as an Editor’s Choice for Down East Magazine‘s “Best of Maine” issue, in the “Personal Food Blog” category. Our website has also been featured by Portland Food Map, Live Work Portland, and received a “Best Of” nomination in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 from The Portland Phoenix in their “Best Food Blog” category. Our work has also been featured by Blog Eats, Food Porn Daily, Yummly, Foodista, Yupeat, Feastie, and Via Los Angeles. We’ve been profiled by the Bangor Daily News and the Coastal Journal, as well as mentioned in the Portland Press Herald.
Finally, we were very pleased and honored to be asked to help represent Maine’s diverse food culture for The Department of Tourism’s “Maine Insiders” campaign.
The relative success of From Away eventually led to a book deal, with a publishing company called “Tilbury House,” located in Thomaston, Maine. In 2014, we published our first book, called “Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road.” It’s one part cookbook, with both traditional and modern New England recipes, one part review guide, with in-depth reviews of more than 50 of Maine’s can’t-miss restaurants, and part travel guide, with suggested food-centric road trips that will take you across the width and breadth of the state, in search of the best food Maine has to offer. How many parts is that, three? Yes, that’s right. There’s three parts.
All of this cooking for the website started to open the doors to cooking, for real. I began competing in online and real-world cooking contests, and to my surprise, doing well in them. I won or placed in several contests sponsored by the American Lamb Council, Jones Dairy Farm, the Wisconsin Cheese Board, and NBC’S “Today” show. I was also fortunate to compete for two consecutive years in the “World Food Championship,” an invite-only contest that challenges the best chefs in the world to compete in Las Vegas for over $300,000 in prizes. I competed in the “World Sandwich Championship,” earning an 11th place finish out of 60 competitors in that category.
Late in 2014, after moving Jillian and Violet, our new daughter, across the country to chase a marketing job as “Community Manager” with a very cool animation studio in Burbank, CA, we made the decision to not just write about food, but to start selling it to the world. And we wanted to do it right back here, in coastal Maine.
I raised almost $30,000 from more than 400 backers on Kickstarter to launch a food truck, called “Wich, Please.” The campaign was the 7th most-funded food truck campaign in Kickstarter history, and received a lot of attention from Eater Maine, the Portland Press Herald, the Pen Bay Pilot, and the Bangor Daily News. I was also featured in interviews for FoodTruckr and Food Truck Empire. Opening day was in May, 2015, and the reception so far by both the public and the press has been very, very encouraging, earning both Eater.com’s “Hottest Restaurant in Maine” for 2015 and The Courier-Gazette’s “Best of the Best” Food Truck in Knox County for 2016.
I’ve also tried to continue expanding our online presence in the food world with the launch of three new blogs, Pro Food Blogger, Eat More Tacos, and Spork & Barrel. Though all three are in the early stages, I continue to be interested in trying to diversify our content, eventually creating sites that appeal to more narrow-focused niche audiences.
Other details? Our daughter Violet is four now, who thanks to her birth in Portland, is the first member of our family not to be “From Away.” She likes clementines, quinoa, and when mom isn’t around, frozen sausages. She makes us laugh every single day. We also have a new baby, Mina, who likes being tickled and being sat on by her big sister.
What does it all mean? Where do we go from here? I don’t know. But throughout the last twenty years or so, I’ve wanted to be a person who wasn’t scared to try to do big things, to chase my passions (whatever they may be at the time) and creativity and laughter, whether that was to a fishing village in Mexico or to the grease-lined walls of a tiny crowdfunded food truck. I just want to be someone who does stuff. I have no reason to think I’ll stop now.