Can Maine-Made Heated Cushions Help Pandemic-Battered Restaurants?

These battery-powered heated seats are helping restaurants boost their bottom line.

Hot Seats | Down East Magazine
By Sarah Stebbins
Photographed by Zack Bowen

Last fall, Jocelyn Olsen and her partner, Colin Greig, were sitting under heat lamps on the second-story, harbor-front deck at Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room, on Portland’s Commercial Street, freezing their buns off. It was dark, the wind was blowing steadily off the water, and Olsen, who was wearing a heated vest, said, “I wish we had heated seat cushions.”

Believing they’d hit on an idea that could help their beloved restaurants and breweries, as well as fellow firepit huddlers, weather a pandemic winter, the two spent months sourcing materials and prototyping cushions, which Olsen stitched on Greig’s 11-year-old daughter’s Singer sewing machine. The result is a battery-powered, vinyl-and-foam pad that can sustain temperatures up to 120 degrees for six hours before needing a charge from a USB port; a battery that lasts eight hours on “high” is in the works.

The cushions underwent beta testing at Portland distillery Three of Strong and restaurants Chaval and Little Giant, and all three establishments placed orders when the product launched in late January. Restaurants Terlingua and Tiqa followed suit, and the couple, who divide their time between Portland, South Portland, and Southport, has sold 183 cushions to individuals through their website. Named Hüga — pronounced “hoo-gah,” a phonetic spelling of the oft-bungled Danish hygge, connoting comfort and coziness — the company sources marine vinyl from Auburn’s Fabric Warehouse and employs stitchers from Flowfold, in Gorham, and Alfred’s Upholstery, in Alfred.

Currently, Olsen and Greig, who go by “cheek executive officer” and “president of back end operations,” respectively, are ramping up production in anticipation of more restaurant patio openings this spring. “We just want them to survive,” Greig says. “We’re so afraid we’re going to lose our favorite restaurants.”