FAIRFAX, Vt.—One of Vermont’s largest maple producers has put its entire operation into a former game piece factory in the northwestern part of the state.
Staff at Runamok Maple, owned by Eric and Laura Sorkin, spent more than a week in July moving into the 55,000-square-foot facility in Fairfax, located in maple-rich Franklin County.
The building is located at 293 Fletcher Road and is the former site of Morse Hardwood, which used to manufacture wooden Scrabble game tiles. The structure has been vacant for about two years, so the Sorkins are happy to fill an economic void in Fairfax, while their business grows and thrives.
“It was always our plan to consolidate under one roof,” Eric Sorkin said during a July 11 with The Maple News. “We love the town. We love the site. It’s great.”
The 55,000-square-foot site will house Runamok’s manufacturing, warehousing and administrative departments. Runamok has also moved its maple candy and cream operations to Fairfax from a leased property in Brattleboro, in southern Vermont.
Syrup production will still occur at Runamok’s central sugarhouse on Glenn Drive, in Cambridge, adjacent to Fairfax. Runamok manages about 100,000 total taps that span 1,100 acres in Cambridge and another 250 acres in Fairfield, also in Franklin County.
Runamok will immediately use about 30,000 square feet of its new space. The Sorkins are saving the remaining 25,000 square feet for future growth, although Eric Sorkin envisions the company using the entire building by the end of this year.
Runamok’s growth spurt started in 2016. The Sorkins had already been producing syrup for bulk sale since 2009, but two years ago they pumped money and energy into a diversification effort that included a retail line of flavor-infused and barrel-aged syrups — all packaged and branded for the direct sales market.
“It became a central part of our mission,” Eric Sorkin recalled.
Then, Runamok attended the Fancy Food Show in New York City in the summer of 2016, “which got us good press and great success,” Sorkin said. They had just launched an e-commerce plan, and their syrups were in less than a handful of stores, but the Fancy Food Show landed them spots in Oprah magazine and The New York Times, among other national publications.
“We were just really fortunate,” Eric Sorkin said. “We just got a lot of good press and national attention out of the Fancy Food Show.”
After the show, Runamok boosted its public relations efforts by hiring a professional agency. Runamok also developed its manufacturing and sales force. In 2016, Runamok had 18 employees; today, it has 45.
“We’re working our best to keep this momentum going, and the Fairfax consolidation is all part of that,” Eric Sorkin said. “We’ve been growing very rapidly, and we’re so excited to have everything under one roof. We were getting ridiculously cramped in Cambridge.”
Eric and Laura Sorkin are thrilled that their expansion into direct sales worked, but such a move does come with expenses and challenges, such as making a maple business comply with federal safety and food manufacturing regulations.
“Making maple syrup is completely different from packing and branding it,” Eric Sorkin said.
The Sorkins are first-generation sugar makers. They are both from the New York metro area and met while in graduate school at Duke. Eric was pursuing a joint degree in law and environmental management, while Laura, too, was earning her master’s degree in environmental management. After graduation, they worked in the non-profit sector in Washington, D.C.; it was 1998.
“Our jobs were okay but I had an idea growing in my head about starting an organic vegetable farm,” Laura Sorkin recalled. “It started with a small garden in Long Island, when I was in my twenties. I discovered I am obsessed with growing things, but at the time, starting a farm with no background in agriculture seemed improbable. When we were in D.C., the idea grew steam and what had been a plan for ‘retirement’ moved to the front of the stove.”
Eric had spent time in Vermont “and really loved the state,” and Laura wanted to be “anywhere in New England, and Vermont still had relatively affordable land,” she said. They moved to Vermont in 1999. They started and ran a CSA market but found it difficult to break even, so they switched to maple sugaring a decade later.
“Most of our property is forest land and maple syrup had always been a consideration, but when we ran the numbers, it made sense for us to switch,” Laura Sorkin said.