ROCKPORT, Maine — Jeff Wolovitz of Heiwa Tofu was a blur of action on Thursday morning as he shepherded the transformation of pounds of raw soybeans into the creamy, fresh-tasting product his small, family-owned company is known for.
Wolovitz, garbed in a hairnet and a fisherman’s bib, was enveloped in clouds of steam from a simmering vat of ground soybeans. He had to shout a little to be heard over the whir of machinery hard at work in the company’s new production facility, or beanery, built this spring in a renovated gas station on Route 90 in Rockport.
“It’s been real busy,” he said. “We haven’t had a chance to breathe. Through the summer and into the first half of October, we were really at capacity. It was relentless.”
Being too busy is a good problem for the tofu-maker to have. Though Heiwa means “peace” in Japanese, the truth is that peace has been scarce recently for the company. In the last two years, Heiwa Tofu has more than doubled its sales, in part because Wolovitz and his wife, Maho Hisakawa, added a new product: vacuum-packed blocks of tofu that have a longer shelf life than the fresh tofu that previously had been their only offering.
And things got even busier in April, when they purchased the Rockport building and renovated it fast with the “watertightness of a seafaring vessel and the cleanliness of an operating room,” Wolovitz said, so they could move in by June. They sunk all their available resources into the renovation and put off installing a heater until fall, but they can’t wait any longer. They are in the middle of an online fundraising campaign to install a heat pump that will both heat and cool their Rockport facility, and so far, they have raised more than $9,000.
“The support has been great,” Wolovitz said.
It’s a lot of money, and it will help them make a lot of tofu. Since opening in 2008, they estimate that they’ve sold close to 400,000 pounds of tofu. Recently they’ve been making 2,500 pounds of tofu a week, which is being distributed throughout Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts and being sold at many different grocery stores, natural food stores and co-ops. It’s also on the menu at restaurants and found in the cafeterias and dining halls of many different colleges and hospitals.
Hisakawa, who was born in Japan and moved to the United States when she was 12, said that she never expected to become part of Maine’s only professional tofu-making enterprise.
“What I’ve been realizing is that tofu connects me to the Japanese culture on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “My relations back in Japan are like, ‘Tofu? My gosh. Americans eat tofu?’ But tofu’s not a hippie thing anymore.”
Wolovitz, who at one point had thought he would be a farmer, started making tofu as a way to take a locally grown product and add value to it. He and Hisakawa both feel grateful that many of their neighbors and customers think of their business as a locally made enterprise that is worth supporting, too.
“Every time a donation comes in, I feel a little teary,” Hisakawa said.