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 sort of a laugh, specific time, the peak of the recession,” Holden remembered. “Luke’s became originally an aspect challenge, intended to be a passion assignment.”
Holden favored his process, however, he changed into 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 out with the reality that he couldn’t get a first-rate lobster roll in Manhattan.
Everything turned into off, Holden stated. The charge turned into too high, 30 dollars. The lobster meat changed into inferior with fillers, mask and diluters “to basically 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 a long way from the vital Maine lobster shack as you can get.
“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 a real 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, which serves in simple terms as a vessel for the remarkable excellent lobster meat.
Shave a bit butter onto the sides of the bun, toast it golden brown, upload a touch mayo for texture, some mystery seasoning and celery salt to accessory the lobster, a little heat lemon butter to convey all of it collectively. That’s all you need.
“That literally is the key to the program,” Holden stated. “Once you begin looking to do something aside from putting your celebrity of the display facing ahead, you’re playing from at the back of. You need to lead 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 manned 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 entire aspect became approximately 250 rectangular feet. Holden and Conniff reduce it in 1/2 with the prep region, a two-basin sink, and 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.”
The first day, Luke’s sold 500 lobster rolls. They were waiting to sell 100. Holden’s dad, Jeff, drove down greater lobster meat from Maine overnight for tomorrow.
“It turned into the wild for positive,” Holden stated. “The humorous aspect about it too, 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 less 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 in regards to Red’s, commonly taken into consideration the Number 1 lobster roll in Maine.
Ten years later, Luke’s continues to be within the East Village in its unique location, however, it additionally has 30 extra places in Maine, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Las Vegas, and Miami, plus 10 locations in Japan, and two places in Taiwan.
Luke additionally has one in every of the most important lobster production centers within the United States in Maine, in which 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.