An East Coast summer wouldn’t be complete without a lobster roll by the shore. There’s something very satisfying about enjoying fresh lobster on a toasted, buttery bun—preferably with a view of the water as seagulls call softly in the background.
Fast-casual chain Luke’s Lobster is on a mission to ensure that the lobster roll is sustainable. What started as a tiny outpost in New York’s East Village in 2009 has grown into a network of seafood shacks along the East Coast as well as three locations in Japan.
The seafood company sources their ingredients directly from local fisheries, ensuring they can trace exactly where the food they serve comes from. Fisheries that supply Luke’s follow strict guidelines such as adherence to seafood size and quantity limits. Shrimpers use special nets built to catch mature shrimp so that younger ones can stay in the ocean and reproduce. Clams are harvested using hydraulic dredging, a method reported to have “no significant effect” on the aquatic ecosystem. And Luke’s Lobster is the only North American seafood company that is both MSC-certified sustainable and SQF level 3 food safety certified.
In addition to selling delicious and sustainable seafood, Luke’s is also about giving back to the community. In partnership with The Ocean Foundation, the restaurant chain developed a grant program to strengthen economic opportunities for fishing communities and keep coastal waterways healthy. They dubbed it the “Keeper” Fund, a reference to Maine lobsters that meet adequate size requirements for consumption.
This year, Luke’s Lobster sent out a call for proposals to determine the grant recipients. “All the proposals we received were terrific,” said Luke Holden, founder of Luke’s Lobster. “In addition to providing financial support for these projects, we see an opportunity to help magnify the work these organizations are doing through our marketing and storytelling bandwidth.”
The restaurant chain will award $25,000 in mini-grants to organizations across three broad categories: research, education, and clean-up. The funds were raised partly through a partnership with Portland’s Allagash Brewing Company. For every Allagash White sold at Luke’s, the restaurant donates $1 to the Keeper Fund, up to $10,000 annually. The partnership reached their maximum goal in 2019 and hopes to do so again this year.
All grant recipients are based in Maine where the company does most of its sourcing and where Holden spent his childhood. As a third-generation lobsterman, Holden began learning the family business at 13 years old. But the idea for Luke’s Lobster came much later when he was living in New York. While working as an investment banker on Wall Street, Holden was disappointed with the quality of New York City’s lobster rolls. Craving the fresh Maine-style rolls of his youth, Holden decided to start making and selling his own.
These days, the owner spends most of his time in his home state where he cultivates relationships with local fishermen and sits on the board of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. “Maine’s coastal communities are important to us,” said Ben Conniff, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Luke’s Lobster. “Whether we’re looking at reducing ocean acidification or providing expanded educational opportunities to students, the goal is always for Luke’s to have a positive and lasting impact year over year.”