The Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance in action

First published in Landings, February, 2013.

Design generously donated by Karen Cushman, Cushman Creative.

Soon after Luke’s Lobster opened its doors in 2009, Luke Holden and Ben Conniff, president and vice president of Luke’s Lobster, respectively, approached the Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance (MLCA) to talk about how they could give back to the industry. Holden, a Cape Elizabeth native, grew up lobstering along the shores of his home town. Luke’s Lobster started small in 2009 with a ten-person team at their restaurant in Manhattan. Four years later, Luke’s has four restaurants in New York City (their fifth location in the Financial District is temporarily closed due to Hurricane Sandy), three in the Washington, D.C. metro area, and a food truck, Nauti. They employ 130 – 150 people, depending on the time of year.

Everyone who works in the company – from senior management to counter staff at the restaurants –  knows the story of the Maine lobster industry’s sustainable fishing practices. “Leading up to our opening, sustainability was the key message we wanted New York’s food lovers to understand. They welcomed it with open arms. Our write-ups in The New York Times, New York Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, and major food Web sites and blogs all focused on our connection to a sustainable seafood source,” explained Conniff. The message of sustainability has been a huge component of the company’s image.

While Luke’s Lobster’s growth has been rapid, Holden certainly has not forgotten his Maine roots, nor have he and Conniff forgotten that the sustainable status of their products begins back on the boat in Maine. Luke’s Lobster was the first business to invest in Claws for a Cause, recognizing the importance of giving back to the industry. “Our most important connection to the Maine lobster fishery is our relationship with the Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance. We donate a portion of our proceeds to the MLCA, because it is their continued efforts that keep the fishery and the industry healthy and allow us to do what we do 500 miles south,” Conniff continued.

Since then, Claws for a Cause has attracted the attention of another out-of state company, Bern Unlimited. Bern produces outdoor gear for the ski, snowboard, bike and skate industries. They partner with athletes in each of those sports, including Maine native and two-time Olympic snowboard gold medalist, Seth Wescott.

Bern and Wescott’s investment in the Claws for a Cause program was featured in the January, 2013, Landings (“Olympian Seth Wescott invest in the MLCA”).  Bern Unlimited released a Wescott Pro Model Baker helmet in 2012; 5 percent of the proceeds from sales of this style are contributed to the Claws for a Cause program.

Bern’s brand manager Josh Walker notes that Wescott’s commitment to the Maine brand and his desire to support the lobster industry at a difficult time motivated the company’s participation in Claws for a Cause. Wescott himself points to the quality of Maine’s lobsters. “Maine lobsters are known around the world as the best. I truly take pride in that being the world standard,” he said. “We as Mainers need to do whatever we can to help support this industry and all those hardcore fishermen and women who take to our waters to bring home the finest exports our state has.”

“I love this program because it allows us to really get the message to affiliate businesses, and from there, to the general public,” said Annie Tselikis. MLCA has produced posters and table top tent cards designed for use in restaurant or retail locations that articulate the culture, tradition and sustainability of the Maine lobster industry. “We plan to expand the program in 2013, reaching out to Maine restaurant and tourism operations with ties to or an affinity for the lobster industry,” Tselikis explained. She also noted that MLCA intends for this to be a collaborative process. “We want to support the businesses that support us by providing marketing materials and resources to help them illustrate their commitment to the Maine lobster industry.”