The Mad River in Waitsfield. Photo: Jeff Knight

Mad River Taste, a new local food-tasting center in Waitsfield, has its first major tenant, the Vermont Cheese Council.

The Vermont Cheese Council accepted a proposal to relocate to the Waitsfield facility after Cabot Creamery, Waitsfield, offered to cover rent for five years.

The Mad River Food Hub has purchased the former People’s United Bank building in Waitsfield to host Mad River Taste and food-related professional trade organizations.

Robin Morris, founder of the Mad River Food Hub, announced his plans to purchase the former bank and create a local food-tasting center last fall. He plans to have maker organizations there as well as retail sales of local foods plus educational offerings in terms of workshops and seminars. The building will have a variety of retail offerings including local meats, charcuterie, maple products, wine, beer, spirits, honey, chocolate, bread and cheeses.

The former bank building is 3,600 square feet and features three offices, two conference rooms, a vault and a larger central space. Morris envisions renting the three offices to organizations affiliated with food and beverage in Vermont while having retail and a bar/pub area set up in the open space where people could purchase and sample locally made food and beverages and products. The facility will also provide space for board meetings, demonstrations, educational programs and regular tastings and cheese pairing sessions for the cheese council and others.

Morris has hired a retail designer, Christine Burdick, to help transform the space into a prime retail venue.

“We want to make sure that everyone who comes in has a good time and buys products. This has to work. It’s all about economic vitality for The Valley and for all the businesses that have products there,” Morris said.

Morris has said that the tasting center is a critical aspect of marketing The Valley and its makers. Before signing the purchase and sales agreement to buy the bank building, he researched similar facilities around the country and determined that The Valley would be perfectly suited for a tasting center. Vermont, he said, is behind other regions in the country in marketing and highlighting local growers and makers.

He talked about the concept of complex reciprocity in terms of marketing, a concept that refers to cross marketing all products from an area across all platforms, but also in a single location, like the former bank building, and including peer-to-peer maker referrals and marketing.

Morris is seeking grants to help create promotional materials for the makers’ features at the new tasting center. He envisions one-minute videos about each farmer or maker or cheesemaker, etc., to go along with photos and products.

The Mad River Food Hub, Morris’s 5-year-old brainchild where local foods are processed, stored, cured, value-added and distributed, will own and operate Mad River Taste. If the project moves forward as planned he will open mid-June. He wants to have several warm-up weekends under his belt before the official opening during the Fourth of July weekend.

Morris closed on the building last week. The purchase price was $277,000.