Case Study: Making Lobster Affordable... and Profitable

Linda Bean

WHO: Linda Bean, owner

WHAT: Linda Bean's Perfect Maine® Lobster Roll

SIZE: 9 units plus a Lobstermobile

CONCEPT: Quick-serve and take-out lobster shack

VOLUME: Purchases several million pounds of live lobsters per year

MENU DESCRIPTION: Most popular—Lobster Roll (quarter pound) served in basket with salt and vinegar kettle chips, cole slaw and bread-and-butter pickles, $15.50

NEW ON MENU: Junior Lobster Roll (one eighth pound) served with same sides, $7.95; Colossal Lobster Roll (6 ounces), $22.95

FAMOUS FOR: Fantastic lobster rolls and her commitment to the sustainability and traceability of Maine lobster

An operator shares her story.

See how Linda Bean has turned her lobster roll into a multi-unit operation.

Four years ago, Linda Bean, granddaughter of famed L.L. Bean, bought a house overlooking a Maine harbor, rugged and beautiful, anchored by a vista of iconic lobster boats. With the house came a lobster wharf and a lobster pound, and so Bean rather suddenly entered the lobster business as a wholesale buyer and dealer. She took to it like a duck to water, and has since added two more lobster wharves, a live lobster overnight shipping facility, a seafood-processing plant and an emerging lobster frozen-food line, plus nine foodservice operations (so far). And along the way, Bean has become a champion of the lobster industry, initiating international certification of Maine lobster by the Marine Stewardship Council, a U.K.-based organization that promotes sustainability.

Underpinning her commitment to protecting Maine's lobster resource is a recognition that the future of Maine fishing jobs is in danger. "The compelling part for me is getting the lobstermen a fair wage," says Bean. "They're struggling. Their practices are sustainable, but the demand has gone down. Lobster is viewed as a luxury product. We're trying to increase demand by creating affordable lobster products." One of the ways she's doing that is by utilizing other parts of the lobster—apart from the prized tail. "Our lobster rolls and lobster stew move lobster away from special occasion to everyday," she says. "My fishermen and employees want to make Maine lobster an accessible, natural food. I've created places where you can go every day and have a nutritious, wild-caught Maine lobster sandwich—it's not just for celebrations."

To pay her fishermen more, Bean has applied her business education and background to deploy a vertical-integration model that captures margins that she can share at the shore. “From trap to table, if my working team can capture profit margins and shoot bonuses back down to our fishermen, we hope we can keep fishing families on the water—now and into future generations.” Last season, she paid out $919,129 in bonuses to her fishermen.

What's in her famous lobster roll?

Lobster Roll

Bean starts with a custom-made top-cut New England hot dog roll (the kind that has a flat bottom, so it stands up better on the plate). She butters the roll lightly and then toasts it. She then dresses the roll with Kraft Miracle Whip. “I like the sweet spices of Miracle Whip,” says Bean. “It works really well with the sweetness of the lobster and introduces a tangy creaminess that's perfect. I will only use Miracle Whip on my lobster rolls.” Inside the roll—pure lobster meat. “No celery, no onions, no lettuce taking up space. Just lobster,” she says. She utilizes the arm set of the lobster. “The claw and knuckle meat is the sweetest meat, very recognizable, and the most tender,” says Bean. “Other lobster species around the world have little or no claws—we have something special and luscious here from the pristine ocean waters of Maine. It's in a class by itself.” She cooks the lobster meat gently. “We cook it a little longer than a poach, but not much longer,” she says. She finishes the lobster with a dusting of proprietary herbs that she blends herself (the blogosphere postulates dill and celery seed as two of the ingredients). “Everyone has their own standards of perfection, but we get a lot of rave reviews for ours,” says Bean.

World's Longest Lobster Roll

World's Longest Lobster Roll

Forty-eight pounds of lobster meat. Four gallons of Kraft Miracle Whip. A lobster roll measuring 61 feet, 9.5 inches.That's what it took to make the world's longest lobster roll, unveiled at the 2009 Maine's Old Port Festival in Portland, Maine. A local roller derby team helped carry the sandwich to the festival, where it was cut into sections and sold to raise money for a youth association. Linda Bean donated the lobster meat. Kraft Foods' own Mark Reigel was on hand taking photos.

Working with frozen lobster

Linda Bean's lobster brand name is on frozen lobster meat and fresh, live lobsters in grocery outlets, too. Bean shares the importance of how to thaw the frozen meat properly, avoiding a spongy texture. “Thaw it slowly,” she says. “Overnight, if you can, and always in the refrigerator.”

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Making Lobster Affordable