PORTLAND, Maine — Jocelyn Olsen and Colin Greig, the duo behind the company Huga, just put their new battery-powered heated seat cushion on the market. They hope the product helps local restaurants weather outdoor dining during the cold months of the pandemic.
“Portland is a big food town. It’s been killing us to not be able to go out to eat,” Greig said.
Rigorous state safety guidelines intended to stop the spread of the virus have pushed most eatery operations outdoors.
After months of prototyping the product and sourcing materials, the pair on Friday delivered 18 Huga heated seat cushions to Sam Pierce, who owns the Bayside distillery Three of Strong.
After a round of testing, Pierce’s customers loved the cushions. So he’ll use them to line the seats of the tasting room’s outdoor seating area. He’s got a couple of large propane heaters out there, but patrons can still get pretty cold on the bar’s metal stools.
“We’re very happy to be the first” to use the Huga cushions, Pierce said.
Each Huga cushion costs $125, but they could be more efficient than propane heat lamps, a common accessory for outdoor seating areas during the pandemic.
Pierce spent around $700 for each of his propane heaters, which run through three or four propane tanks a week during the winter. Those costs add up, and customers don’t always feel the effects unless they’re sitting close to the lamps.
From left (clockwise): Rachel MacArthur, of Three of Strong distilling in Portland, hugs one of the new, heated seat cushions made and delivered by a Maine couple on Friday Jan. 22, 2021; Mainer Jocelyn Olsen, co-creator of the new Huga heated seat cushion, delivers 18 of them to the Three of Strong distillery tasting room in Portland on Friday Jan. 22, 2021; A new new, rechargeable Huga heated seat cushion, co-created by Mainers Jocelyn Olsen and Colin Greig, sits on a stool at the Three of Strong distillery tasting room in Portland on Friday Jan. 22, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Olsen and Grieg borrowed from the Danish word “hygge” which roughly translates to “feeling comfortable.” Olsen is Danish, and the couple thought the name was appropriate because finding ways to stay comfortable in the winter is a Maine pastime.
The cushions are made from polyurethane foam encased with vinyl, and have three heat settings toggled by a button. Olsen and Greig have sourced batteries that can get up to 120 degrees after a few minutes, they say, and sustain for eight hours before needing a charge from a USB port or phone charger.
That makes it suitable for restaurant use, where they can be routinely charged overnight. But the couple doesn’t see eateries as their only market. They’ve attached webbing for the product to be used as a backpack. This week, orders have come in from around the country from individuals looking to use the cushions on their porches and patios, where frequent charges aren’t as necessary.
“The hockey moms are crazy about it,” Olsen said.
As the owners behind a product centered on the comfort of people’s butts, Olsen lists herself as “cheek executive officer” on her business card. Grieg is the “president of back end operations.”
The couple received some help earlier this month from Anestes Fotiades of the website Portland Food Map, who forwarded the seat cushion idea to a few restaurateurs.
“We’ve been calling him our amb-ass-ador,” Greig said.
Based in Portland and Southport, Olsen and Greig have strong Maine ties. Greig is a carpenter, and Olsen worked at L.L. Bean for years after moving to the state from Boston, and knows some area restaurant owners from business school.
Since going live, they’ve fulfilled orders at Three of Strong and two other Portland restaurants, plus orders from Texas, Michigan and other states.
Greig hopes that the product can help bridge the gap between those who want to support the hospitality industry and those concerned about the coronavirus. And both of Huga’s founders hope the seat cushions can convince more of them to eat safely outdoors.