If Josh Rogers had his way, Maine would be known as much for its use of seaweed in dishes as it is for lobster.

For the past several years, Rogers, who lives in Portland and grew up in Auburn, has been working toward putting Maine on the map as a place that offers a high-quality brand of seafood

Rogers is the owner of Heritage Seaweed, a retail shop at 61 India St. in Portland that specializes in ocean-based goods. He’s also responsible for creating Cup of Sea, a brand of loose-leaf herbal and caffeinated teas featuring Maine seaweed.

Nearly a year after opening his store, Rogers is preparing to launch “Seaweed Week” from April 26 to May 4, during which more than 50 restaurants, bars, breweries and distilleries throughout Maine, including the Pub at Baxter Brewing in Lewiston, will offer menu items that feature seaweed.

Rogers is referring to it as the country’s “first-ever Kelp Food Festival and Harvest Celebration,” because the event coincides with the state’s annual kelp harvest.

While some restaurants in Maine have already been using seaweed in some of their menu items, Rogers said he hopes Seaweed Week will “challenge others to start innovating with them.”

Rogers said his great-grandparents moved from New Brunswick in Canada to the Lewiston-Auburn area to work in the shoe shops “and brought this tradition of eating dulse.”

Dulse is a red seaweed prevalent in the north Atlantic Ocean and was a favorite snack of Rogers when he was growing up.

Josh Rogers, a Portland business owner who grew up in Auburn, is organizing the nation’s first “Seaweed Week,” during which restaurants, breweries and bars across the state will offer menu options with seaweed as the featured ingredient. Submitted photo

“When I was a kid, we’d go up to New Brunswick every summer, get some dulse and hoard it for the next year,” Rogers said. “This was in the 1980s, so you couldn’t find it in Maine that easily. I loved it. I’d try to get my friends to try it, and they were pretty squeamish about it. It was super special to me, though.”

Rogers graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 1994, and shortly after that, he moved to New York City, where he was involved in professional food writing.

“I served as the senior editor at the Zagat Restaurant Guide,” Rogers said. “After that, I served as a content strategist at Google. I was working on dining and travel content for them.”

For the 12 years Rogers lived in New York City, his love of the ocean and of seaweed as an ingredient in food preparation remained strong.

“After I graduated college, I started seeing seaweed in health food stores a lot more,” Rogers said. “When I was in New York, I was missing that connection to the ocean and the smell of the sea.”

Rogers said he was drinking green tea one day and noticed that it smelled similar to the kelp he used as an ingredient in his food.

“I started researching whether there was a seaweed tea,” he said. “I found this Japanese tea where they crush seaweed into a fine powder and mix it with hot water, but it wasn’t tea in the traditional sense.”

In 2016, with his idea for seaweed tea in tow, Rogers quit his job at Google and moved back to Maine, where he began experimenting and developing tea blends with seaweed.

“Seaweed is this amazing nutrient-dense thing that is high in minerals, has omegas, essential amino acids and anti-inflammatories,” Rogers said. “A lot of people don’t realize that. My hope was that in a tea form, it might be easier to try.”

As Rogers’ seaweed tea experimentation began to outgrow his Portland home, he began to look for retail space in Portland.

“One of the things I was struggling with, in terms of starting a store, was that seaweed is already everywhere,” Rogers said. “It’s not just in health food stores anymore. It’s in Hannaford and other specialty stores, too, but people just don’t know it’s there. I wanted to find a way to showcase seaweed and literally put it on the map.”

On July 1, 2018, Rogers opened Heritage Seaweed in Portland. Six months later, he began to develop the idea for Seaweed Week.

He said that the idea for Seafood Week went back to the years he spent working for Zagat’s Restaurant Guide and at Google.

“I was surrounded by professional food writers and restaurant reviewers, and every summer, a fair amount of them would come up to Maine for vacation,” Rogers said. “They’d ask me where they could find the best lobster rolls or oysters. I was always aware that seaweed was not a part of that equation.

In December, Rogers said he reached out to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, a group that had previously hosted weekly events called “Out of the Blue” during which restaurants would cook foods using under-utilized seafood.

“I wanted to use that as a template,” Rogers said. “I started reaching out to people in January, and from there, things went from zero to 60 really fast.”

Four months after Rogers began to organize the event, more than 50 restaurants, bars, breweries and distilleries have agreed to feature foods using seaweed as an ingredient on their menus.

Rogers said he wants Maine to be “one of the leaders” in popularizing seaweed in food and drinks.

“I want to be a part of creating a Maine brand around seaweed, the same way Maine has created a brand around lobsters,” Rogers said. “You can find lobster in other places, but you hear about Maine lobster the most. I want it to be the same way for seaweed.”

“In 10 to 20 years, I think we’re going to see a lot of seaweed products continuing to enter the retail market, and a lot of those will come from Maine,” Rogers said. “I want my store to be a place where those products can be seen by the public and tested.”

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