The CEI Women’s Business Center Dining Pod Grant

The CEI Women’s Business Center, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Greater Portland Council of Governments are working to support Portland’s restaurants through the cold winter months. Through generous funding made possible by Norway Savings Bank, we have a limited number of grants available to small businesses that have worked with CEI to be used on purchasing select dining pod structures, dining pod heaters, and pod cleaning kits.

We have seen initiatives of this kind take shape in cities around the US, using various types of structures for dining pods. We have selected a specific structure to be used for the dining pod based on reviews, Portland restaurant survey feedback, aesthetic, price and availability.

It is our hope that our initial round of grants will allow for the first of many Portland restaurants to obtain dining pods that will increase capacity in safe, contained, and heated spaces through the coldest months of the year. We are working with community partners to raise funds for additional regional support for restaurants this winter.


What is a dining pod?

A dining pod is an external structure that allows a restaurant to serve a self-contained party of no more than 8 people. The dining pod structure that we have selected for our dining pod grant is a greenhouse (list model here). This structure has a sturdy frame that can withstand changing weather conditions, while also allowing for heating and electrical integration. The structure has ventilation through windows on the roof.  You can see a rendering of the greenhouse dining pod here.

Where will dining pods be allowed?

We are currently working with the City of Portland to finalize the criteria for acceptable placement of dining pods. We have tentative confirmation that dining pods will be allowed in the spaces that have been approved for outdoor dining this summer, with the exception of outdoor dining spaces created by street closures.

How can restaurants ensure that dining pods are safe places for consumers to dine?

Dining pods will allow diners to safely eat out at restaurants during colder months as they are contained spaces for a single party that has already chosen to share space together. By following the State’s health and safety measures to ensure that the dining pods are cleaned, sanitized, and ventilated, restaurants can use dining pods to safely serve their clientele.

For more, please review: Dining Pod Health and Safety Measures

What does the CEI Women’s Business Center Dining Pod Grant entail?

The CEI Women’s Business Center Dining Pod Grant entails:

  1. 1-4 dining pod greenhouse structures, depending on the selected restaurant’s outdoor space, City regulations, and other specifications
  2. Heating supplies for the dining pods
  3. Cleaning kits for the dining pods
  4. Assembly and installation of the dining pods (assembly to be completed on-site)
  5. Dining pod accessories, including lights, electrical cords, extra propane, shovel, broom, lock, etc.

What is our grant selection process?

We will vet our applications based on the following four criteria:

  1. Applicant must be a small business owner who has worked with CEI in the past 5 years.  This work might include: working with a WBC, SBDC or StartSmart business advisor, attending a workshop or event, or borrowing funds from CEI.
  2. Applicant must own and operate a restaurant in Portland, Maine.
  3. Applicant must have experienced a 25% loss in revenue in the wake of the pandemic (since March 2020) as compared to 2019 revenue.
  4. Applicant must have available outdoor space (or space granted for the use of outdoor dining by the City of Portland). This includes private land, parking lots, parklets, and some other setups.
  5. The applicants that fit these four criteria will be put into a lottery, and will be selected by late October.

Upon selection, the grant funds will be distributed directly to the selected grantees for the sole purpose of purchasing the specified dining pod structures, heaters, and cleaning kits.

I don’t want a dining pod. Can I still apply for your funding?

No. Due to our limited pool of funding and short disbursement timeline, we have decided to focus on restaurants that are interested in outdoor pod dining this winter.

I want a different outdoor dining structure. Do I have to purchase the one that you have selected?

Yes. For the purpose of this pilot, and in order to create a dining pod ‘buzz’ in Portland, we have decided to choose a single dining pod structure.

When is the application due?

The application is due on October 22nd by 11:59pm.

Who should I contact if I have questions about the application?

Please refer your questions to Anna at

The CEI offices remain closed to the public, but we're hard at work! Reach out or click here for a list of COVID-19 Business Resources.