If you’ve driven down Danforth Street, you’ve probably passed O’Maine Studios without even noticing it. Tucked away in a nondescript industrial building, it’s where Rory Strunk and his dynamic team are revolutionizing Maine’s media and event industry in a production studio-slash-event space that celebrates all the Pine Tree State has to offer.
Strunk’s passion for media and events began early in his career when he created a television network designed for destination ski resorts like Aspen and Sugarloaf, followed by an events division that worked with Red Bull and other companies across the country. When he saw 54 Danforth Street come on the market in Portland, Strunk decided it was time to shift his focus to Maine’s food and beverage scene.
“Maine is such a hot food destination, so I wanted to create a studio with a culinary theme where we could have chef demonstrations, create culinary media, and open a production facility for other independent producers,” he recalls, adding “there was nothing else like it in the northeast.” When it came time to name his new venture, Strunk knew he wanted to bring the brand of Maine to life. He was inspired by the “State O’ Maine” sign outside Big 20 Bowling Center in Scarborough: “I just liked the font,” he laughs, “but State O’ Maine Studios was a mouthful, so we shortened it.”
To turn O’Maine Studios into the revolutionizing media and event organization that he imagined, Strunk brought on a strong team of talented individuals. He tapped Ken Hess, who he knew from earlier in his career, to become O’Maine’s media director; Sarah-Taylor Wieluns, an accomplished producer who previously worked on Criminal Minds, came onboard as executive producer. Strunk connected with Tristan Noyes, the executive director of the Maine Grain Alliance, to join the team as a partner in brainstorming culinary programming and different ways to showcase Maine makers. Together at O’Maine, the team has produced numerous types of media, from the Maker’s Way TV series on NECN (which was nominated for a New England Regional Emmy) to live streamed conferences for local businesses.
In addition to housing a full video production studio, O’Maine hosts a variety of large and small events in five distinct spaces: a kitchen studio, a large main room, a boardroom, a garden patio, and a small gallery that overlooks the main room. Thanks to these curated areas and the ease with which they can be adapted, O’Maine Studios’ event space runs the gamut from weddings to car shows—and even wrestling matches. “Our main space is a large, blank slate, which is a really beautiful thing. We put the right bones into it, and you can dress it up or down however you want,” Strunk explains. “The space we call the Skybox Lounge is sort of a green room that looks down over the main space, and if performers are here, it’s a great place for them to hang out,” he continues. “In the boardroom, we wanted to pull in the food element, so we worked with Maine State Prison to make custom-sized chopping boards that we turned into a wall feature. We’ve also got a great little outdoor space where couples can get married, or it can morph into a fire pit area or cocktail hour space.”
A typical day at the video studio-slash-event space is hard to define, since O’Maine works with anyone from local food businesses and news stations to corporate executives and the Maine Historical Society. “Our team might be working on a media project in the edit studio in the morning, and 207 would come in to shoot chef tips or a recipe in the kitchen. In the afternoon, we’ll probably have a client come in for a tour to see if the space matches up with their needs for a conference, wedding, or private party, and then we might be setting up the main room for an event in the evening,” Strunk explains.
O’Maine Studios, he emphasizes, is “a place where performance and social interaction can come together.” In common theater-style spaces, “you just sit in chairs and watch,” Strunk notes, but “O’Maine is a much more interactive space.” This month, the studio will once again host Harvest on the Harbor, an annual event celebrating Portland’s hospitality scene and the incredible people who make it happen. The four-day festival includes multiple events like an intimate cheese and chocolate tasting, the Lobster Chef of the Year Awards, and the Maine OysterFest. “The dynamic footprint of the studio allows us to bring each event alive differently, which works out really well,” Strunk adds. The festival as a whole speaks directly to his initial goal for O’Maine Studios: to showcase the local culinary scene in an interactive format. “Maine is home to unbelievable people. Whether it’s distributing products or serving them at a restaurant, the whole Maine food chain is incredibly dynamic, and it’s been really fun to work in this space,” he says.