SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Many of the conversations Carter Light has with people about his new business venture inevitably produce a few bad jokes.
After running Coda Restaurant on Village Green Way for about five years, Light has taken one of his house specialties, sausage, and turned it into a full-time business – Colvard & Company.
As with many businesses affected by the pandemic, Light realized in order to continue in the food service industry, he needed to pivot away from the back-breaking, all-in, days-long work of running a seasonal restaurant.
Last season was a struggle with COVID-19 calling the shots and Light doing sporadic intimate four-course dinners on the patio.
“We sat no more than 24 people a night, sat everyone on the patio,” he said. “Then it got cold.”
In the aftermath of the clunky season, Light crafted batches of his sausages during the holiday season and discovered he had enough support to start down a new path.
Sausages were a regular, popular item on the Coda menu during the restaurant’s regular seasons. Typically served three on a plate with house-aged mustard and pickles, customers literally ate them up.
“It was just a very rustic but delicious dish and we ended up selling a ton of them,” said Light. Originally, he explained, his recipes were given to a butcher in Bangor who made them for the restaurant. “We do it all here now.”
In fact, a back storage room has been transformed into a temperature-controlled production room. The stage that featured live music is now an office space for the state health inspector who is on site each day the batches of sausage are made. Light sits at the bar to do paperwork and organize the operation that officially began at the end of December.
“As of yesterday, we’re into about 18 or 19 markets and still growing,” he said, about selling in locations as far south as Scarborough. “Our first batch was 60 pounds and the last one we did was 300 pounds… Some of our recipes are from the restaurant.”
Colvard & Company offers both chicken and pork sausages in multiple flavors, including bratwurst, sesame sriracha, chicken garlic thyme, maple sage, chorizo and jalapeno cheddar.
“We have two chicken sausages now and seven pork,” said Light. “Ours is pretty simple and I still make every batch.”
As he did with his restaurant menu, Light focuses on using quality spices, fresh ingredients and avoiding preservatives. Even so, selling the sausages has taken a bit more leg work than opening the restaurant.
“A pack of sausages doesn’t look terribly amazing,” said Light. “Moving into retail is such a different ballgame. People came in here because they liked what we did. Now, we’re knocking on doors.”
Or cooking samples in the parking lot, as Light did for one of his first customers in Ellsworth.
“I stood in their parking lot, tailgating my sausages, and brought them in,” he said about the owners of Acadia Provisions. “They’ve been a customer ever since… We’re kind of focusing on specialty stores. They’re a little smaller and a more personal connection.”
In four short months, the formula seems to be working.
“We’re licensed for two processing days and we just added a third to keep up with our schedule,” said Light, noting that all of his products are gluten free. “Our products last eight days from production. I have no desire to do (more) because then you get into preservatives. Twenty-four hours out from when we package it, it’s in the market’s hand.”
There is an art to making sausage, according to Light, who leaned toward it when studying in culinary school.
“For some reason, sausages have always been fascinating to me,” he said. “You take some cut of meat nobody wants… You’re making something taste good that is kind of weird.”
Qualities of a good sausage, as with most foods, include taste and texture as well as the right ingredients, blend and process.
“We dry the links overnight so they get that nice snap,” said Light. “We also emulsify all of our sausages because they have a good mouth feel and then flavor, it has to taste good. It should taste clean; it should taste good.”
Learn more at colvardsausages.com.