BAR HARBOR — After sharing space with the Bar Harbor Congregational Church for three years, Open Table MDI, a nonprofit community organization that provides free meals for the public, has signed a lease agreement to move into its own location at 116 Cottage Street.
Inspired by the now-disbanded Food for All program at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, marketing director Puranjot Kaur and former chef Mahandeva Singh launched a nonprofit with the same concept.
The two founders had always thought about Open Table MDI being a permanent, long–lasting program but they had no expectations that it would grow so big so fast. When the couple reached a point where they were not able to serve as many people because of limited kitchen capacity, they began investigating the possibility of having their own space.
The couple is now leasing from Tom and Jodi Sargent. “It kind of just ended up just being the very right thing at the right time,” said Singh.
“We would have happily continued to operate out of the Bar Harbor Congregational Church because they have been so supportive and welcoming of us,” Singh said. “Everything about that space is wonderful, except now we’re getting to the point where we’re getting more people each Tuesday and it’s literally a situation where there’s no more oven space, there’s no stovetop space.”
Open Table MDI will continue its weekly community suppers, which will still be held at the Bar Harbor Congregational Church for the next few months. “We’re cooking as much as we can at that church every Tuesday, about 400 meals. It’s just a matter that the need still exists for food and community connection,” said Singh.
Open Table MDI is funded through donations and grants. Though the organization does not ask for donations from folks who come in for supper, Singh noted there is an option for anyone to donate. “We apply for grants, we are always looking for sustainability funding from those on the island,” he said.
Kaur and Singh recently applied for a grant through the Maine Community Foundation to help purchase equipment for their new kitchen. “It’s a great building, it has a lot of potential, the level of renovation that’s going to that space is epic, I think…,” said Singh. “Renovations should be done by June 1 and we are really hoping to be up and running in the new space by the middle of June.”
Singh thinks the Cottage Street dining space size will be about the same as what is at the Bar Harbor Congregational Church. “Certainly, with opening, we’re not going to be making any moves to having in–person dining, but we should be able to seat at least 60 to 70 people at a time with three to four turnovers… serving suppers from 4–7 p.m.,” he said. Unofficially at this point, the organization is looking toward the fall for in-person seating.
“Open Table is a community effort; any human being is welcome to participate,” said Singh. Even though he and his wife spend a good portion of a week organizing, shopping for, and preparing these meals, they are not alone. Several volunteers from all over Mount Desert Island are needed to help out with prep work, cooking and serving, under Singh’s direction. “I think there’s a lot of good people in our community doing good things, to be sure,” he said.
Up until its new location’s summer opening, Open Table MDI plans to keep the public updated with renovation progress and informed of the community suppers on its Facebook page.