GUILFORD, Maine — It is expected that within a month, the former Pride Manufacturing Co. plant in Guilford that once made golf tees will be converted into a production facility for herbal popcorn and other healthy snacks.
Larry Fleming, founder and owner of Little Lad’s restaurants in Portland and New York and Little Lad’s Bakery in Corinth, confirmed Tuesday that he is close to completing the purchase of the plant, located on Route 15. The property has been vacant for about three years.
“It looks like it’s all working out; we’ve got two banks that have given us the commitment,” Fleming said, adding that no government funds will be involved. “It’s a great time right now to be buying that property.”
Fleming said he had the state Department of Health examine the building and no problems arose for converting it to the production of food.
Guilford Town Manager Tom Goulette said the Flemings reached out to him several months ago about the property. They took the time to inquire about the town, its regulations and the property, he said Tuesday. The plant is owned by Doug, Jodi and Gary Fletcher of Maine Wood Concept Mill of New Vineyard.
Goulette said he was pleased that Fleming plans to occupy the mill and create jobs. While it is hard to predict the economic impact the business will have in the community, it certainly will be an improvement, he said. The business’s marketing of its products worldwide should help promote the community and draw other businesses to the area, he noted.
Fleming said he would renovate the Guilford plant before he closed his Corinth factory to avoid any glitch in filling orders. The sale will exclude two storage buildings on the property that he does not need, he said.
Fleming has 12 full- and part-time employees in Corinth and expects to add jobs in the new location, although he could not predict how many jobs that might be.
“I’d like to be very busy and keep a lot of other people busy and it all depends upon what happens in the market,” Fleming said.
Fleming is all about healthy eating, an emphasis he places on his products which are made of wholesome ingredients and herbs.
“People are looking for better products,” Fleming said.
He also is eager to share information about healthy eating and nutrition.
The popularity of Little Lad’s products — about 200 of them — made it necessary to expand the business, Fleming said. It didn’t hurt that his products, which are shipped all over the world, were included in a gift basket presented to President Barack Obama during his recent visit to Maine.
For years, Fleming said his family has concentrated on serving his customers in his vegan restaurants and in making products for those restaurants that have a money-back guarantee.
At one time, Fleming, who speaks multiple languages, owned and operated 35 vegan restaurants around the nation from Korea to Los Angeles under the name Country Life. He set each of the restaurants up as schools to train people to operate other vegan restaurants, he said.
“I failed to recognize that most people don’t want to work 24 hours a day except for me and my wife,” he said. As the people wore out, they quit and went on to other things, Fleming noted.
Since then, Fleming developed a system where he delivers his food to different restaurants that want vegan items on their menus. As the interest for those products spread, Fleming said the company expanded into local stores.
Word of mouth on the products — especially his popcorn — has been enough to put the company on the global map.
The popcorn, made with corn not genetically modified, was added to his product line about 12 years ago as something to be served with the sandwiches in his restaurants. Customers enjoyed the herbal popcorn so much that they started asking for bags of the popcorn to take home and sales took off, Fleming said.
Today the company produces about 2,500 pounds of corn kernels a week, as well as other products such as crackers and almond butter, according to Fleming.
The move will allow the company to add more products, he said.
Fleming said he is looking forward to relocating to Guilford. “We feel that No. 1, the work ethic in Maine is very important to us,” he said. “There are a lot of people who care about what they do and we really like that.”