This homesick banker built a $75 million commercial enterprise on real Maine-style lobster rolls
Luke Holden, founder and leader govt officer of Luke’s Lobster, changed into a 24-12 months-old funding banker at Cohen & Steers in New York when he opened his first lobster shack inside the East Village.
“It changed into a sort of a laugh, specific time, the peak of the recession,” Holden remembered. “Luke’s became an aspect challenge, intended to be a passion assignment.” Holden favored his process. However, he became homesick – the son and grandson of lobstermen in Maine. “I grew up on boats, wharves, and seafood vegetation; that’s where I grew up,” Holden said.
Sitting at his table one Sunday, he commenced writing a business plan that might deal with his homesickness and desire for an aspect task. He started with the reality that he couldn’t get a first-rate lobster roll in Manhattan.
Everything turned off, Holden stated. The charge turned too high, 30 dollars. The lobster meat became inferior with fillers, masks, and diluters “to cover the truth that the lobster meat wasn’t as excessive first-rate as it can be.”
Then there was the white table material service – ridiculous and as far from the vital Maine lobster shack as possible. “I’m now not a huge fan of mayonnaise,” Holden added. “I genuinely struggled to discover a lobster roll in the city, not drowning in mayonnaise.” Here’s the recipe for an actual Maine-style lobster roll: chilled meat, someplace within the realm of a quarter-pound of fresh knuckle claw lobster meat; a New England pinnacle cut up the bun serves in simple terms as a vessel for the remarkable excellent lobster meat.
Shave a bit of butter onto the sides of the bun, toast it golden brown, and upload a touch of mayo for texture, some mystery seasoning and celery salt to accessory the lobster, and a little heated lemon butter to convey all of it collectively. That’s all you need.
“That is the key to the program,” Holden stated. “Once you begin looking to do something aside from putting your celebrity on display facing ahead, you’re playing from at the back. It would help if you led with your exceptional meals ahead. Lobster is the superstar of the display.”
Holden found an associate on Craig’s List, a latest Yale grad running as a food writer named Ben Conniff. Now the leader marketing officer of Luke’s, Conniff handled the first restaurant in the East Village, “not anything extra than a hollow within the wall,” in Holden’s description. A former consignment shop. “The partitions had been painted brown to make it feel like a closet,” Holden remembered.
The fundamental aspect became approximately 250 rectangular feet. Holden and Conniff reduce it to 1/2 with the prep region, a two-basin sink, refrigeration on one facet, and a lavatory on the other. Out front, there have been seven bar stool seats. However, Holden says, “We found a way to get lots more human beings in there.”
On the first day, Luke’s sold 500 lobster rolls. They were waiting to sell 100. Holden’s dad, Jeff, drove down more excellent lobster meat from Maine overnight for tomorrow.
“It turned into the wild for positive,” Holden stated. “The humorous aspect about it, too, is I didn’t depart the funding banking task. I helped them get installation at 6 or 7 inside the morning and was at my table via 7:30.”
And the fee? $14, which, Holden notes, is without a doubt much more minor than lobster rolls are going for a few places in Maine, consisting of the long-lasting Red’s Eats lobster shack in Wiscasset, in which Holden says a lobster roll will set you lower back towards $25. “It’s now not as appropriate as ours,” he states regarding Red’s, commonly considered the Number 1 lobster roll in Maine.
Ten years later, Luke’s remains within the East Village in its unique location. However, it has 30 different places in Maine, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Las Vegas, and Miami, plus 10 locations in Japan and two in Taiwan.
Luke additionally has one in every of the vital lobster production centers within the United States in Maine, where it manages the lobster for Whole Foods, amongst others. Luke’s Lobster Seafood Co. Strategies about 5 million kilos of lobster yearly and a pair of million pounds of Jonah crab.
“We’ve grown this factor from a bit side mission to a medium-size commercial enterprise with 500 notable teammates and the ambition to be the maximum respected seafood brand in the world someday,” Holden said.