PORTLAND, Maine — It started with a trip to Standard Bakery. Harbor Fish Market came next. Out of the loaves and fishes arose an entrepreneurial revelation: walking food tours around Portland. If new transplant Pam Laskey loved it, wouldn’t the masses?
The results speak for themselves.
This month Laskey’s Maine Foodie Tours was named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Woman Owned Small Business of the Year for Maine. The award salutes locals who have scaled up by tapping the SBA’s Maine-based resources.
“When I came to Portland from Boston I was looking to purchase a business. I noticed there were not a lot of actual tours,” said Laskey. “Considering the amount of people coming here it made sense and I was falling in love with the food scene.”
Her culinary walking tours of the Old Port launched in 2009, the same year Bon Appetit published an article highlighting Portland’s emerging food scene. The plucky Laskey, who was reared in Old Town, started to approach Portland gelato makers, chefs and chocolatiers one by one. At first the reaction was mixed.
“I wasn’t a local. People didn’t know what I was up to,” she said.
After three years of pouring more into her startup than she was receiving in return, the tide turned.
“Social media and review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp helped my business transform overnight,” she said. “It’s a built-in, wonderful sales generator.”
Now Laskey employees around 30 people and has expanded to Kennebunk, Rockland, Camden and Bar Harbor. This summer she’ll add boat tours to South Portland to focus on newcomers like Foulmouthed Brewing. And new tasting tours of burgeoning culinary pockets of Portland, like Washington Avenue, will kick off soon.
The entrepreneurialism of young Mainers and “the risk, confidence and passion that drove them to success,” continues to compel her. “I thought I will tell the story of these entrepreneurs, let them thrive and help them grow their business.”
Her Yankee ingenuity impressed the SBA.
“She’s had phenomenal growth. She’s opened up in multiple towns and cities and is very creative in how she’s invented the business,” said Diane Sturgeon, the SBA’s Maine Deputy District Director. “From classic Old Port spots to a tour in Kennebunk that you can bring you pets on, she continues to innovate.”
Moving from a microbusiness to a small business doesn’t happen by chance. Sturgeon is quick to point out the local resources available for would-be entrepreneurs in Maine such as volunteer business mentoring service SCORE, the Small Business Development Center and Women’s Business Center.
Laskey will be honored at the 2017 SBA Small Business Awards celebration on May 15 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport. For more information about the event visit www.sba.gov/me.