Heather Sanborn left a lucrative career practicing law to help her husband grow Rising Tide Brewery in 2012. But at the time it was illegal for breweries to charge for samples of beer in a tasting room. So Sanborn became a member of the Maine Brewers’ Guild and utilized her legal expertise to play an instrumental part in getting the law changed.
The result has been an explosion in beer tourism for Southern Maine, attracting tourists from throughout New England and beyond.
And if it were not for that change, breweries like Rising Tide Brewing wouldn’t be able to have the 300+ people coming to its tasting room on any given Saturday. Nor would the state of Maine have the continuously growing beer tourism economy we now do.
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As involved in Maine’s brewery scene as she is, one might expect Sanborn to have a decades-long career in brewing or the hospitality industry. But really, she’s relatively new to the scene. With a master’s in education from the University of Southern Maine and a juris doctor from the University of Maine School of Law in her back pocket, Sanborn has worked both as a public school teacher and as a lawyer before stepping into the world of craft beer.
But she’s made her mark quickly, not only with her advocacy, but also with her business acumen.
Sanborn now spends her time helping Rising Tide to manage its growth and to propel the business forward. The brewery has recently undergone a large expansion, moving from Portland’s Industrial Way — home of several other breweries — to a more spacious location on Fox Street, right on the peninsula.
Rising Tide followed the move by relocating its warehouse to Westbrook. Having the extra space has paid off, allowing for the creation of a tasting room, plus increased capacity for the brewery’s own canning line.
Such undertakings, says Sanborn, are one of the most challenging parts of running the business, especially in Maine where so much of a business’ success depends on effectively managing the seasons. While it sounds counterintuitive, Sanborn says growth can be a problem.
“In Maine, you have to make sure you grow in the winter in order to be able to handle your summer customers, but in the winter you don’t have the money to expand.” She’s handled the problem masterfully, and Rising Tide has thrived.
But tackling such challenges for one business alone simply isn’t enough for Sanborn. Now, she wants to help the entire state. So she’s running for the Maine House of Representatives.
Sanborn sees this next step in her career as a way to continue giving back to her community. She wants to help the state of Maine better use its resources to improve economic growth.
“I love Maine and it’s an incredible state with incredible opportunities. We are missing some of those because of government policies that aren’t capitalizing on what’s great about our state.”
Though Maine has a part-time citizens’ legislature, Sanborn admits she won’t be able to juggle her full load at the brewery and make the full impact she wants to in Augusta. Once the campaign heats up after Labor Day, she plans to hand over some of her responsibilities to others on the Rising Tide team.
She not only has the utmost trust in her staff, but they’re part of her reason for running for the Legislature.
“I’ve helped make this business successful so that our staff is able to afford their first house, so that they feel financially secure enough to get married. I know what it’s like to run a business and to hire people, and that’s an experience I want to bring to Augusta.”
Rising Tide’s making a mark in Maine, and that’s in no small part due to Sanborn.
While she’s giving back to Maine through the Legislature, Rising Tide will continue to be giving back not only through its contributions to the local economy, but also through the brewery’s Maine Island Trail Ale from which a portion of sales proceeds go to the Maine Island Trail Association.
Heather Sanborn has given back to her community and has made sure Rising Tide does the same. She is a tireless advocate for her industry, and wants to continue helping her fellow brewers, business owners and all Mainers. That’s why Heather Sanborn is a Maine Icon.