Diners flock to lobster trucks

First published in the MLA Newsletter, June, 2012.

Marketing lobster to the public takes many different forms. These days one of the more popular ways to get lobster to the consumer is through a long-standing American tradition, the food truck.

Lobster trucks, mobile kitchens purveying lobster and other seafood entrees to urban diners, are a growing trend throughout the country. These lobster trucks harken back to the old chuckwagons of the west, invented by a Texas rancher named Charles Goodnight in the 1860s. During World War II, food trucks were used to feed workers at the many war factories that sprang up around the country. Before the dominance of McDonalds and other fast-food chains, food trucks were a common sight at construction sites or at urban parks in major cities, providing cheap and generally edible food to desk workers let loose at lunchtime.

Today food trucks have taken a leap up in quality. Starting with the gourmet taco trucks of California, food trucks now cater to nearly every culinary taste imaginable. Lobster trucks are a recent twist on the food truck tradition. The first lobster truck appears to have been the Lobsta Truck, started in 2010 by Justin Mi, a South Pasadena, California, native.

Susan Povich of Maine opened Red Hook Lobster in New York City in 2009 but quickly moved into lobster trucks as well. Red Hook Lobster began operating two popular lobster trucks in Washington, D.C. in 2011 and then started another in Manhattan. Luke’s Lobster also revved up its lobster truck in May of last year.

Cousins Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac started the engine on their 26-foot lobster truck, Cousins Maine Lobster, this May in Los Angeles. Tselikis and Lomac say that business since then has been booming. “You don’t walk to places for lunch or dinner [in Los Angeles],” Tselikis explained. “Everything is geared up to drive everywhere.”

The two cousins looked at various sites to start a bricks-and-mortar restaurant but decided that a mobile food truck was the right fit for them. “The benefits of a truck are that you don’t have a three to five year lease and you can go to the market rather than having the market come to you,” Tselikis explained. “Plus the food truck industry is totally different out west [than in the east]. The foodies out here like to be exposed to new things.”

Tselikis and Lomac offer both simple and chic items for sale from the truck. There are the traditional lobster, crab, and shrimp rolls plus a lobster bisque. But in keeping with the Californian influence, they also prepare lobster tacos, which are made with lobster, cabbage, pico de gallo and a cilantro lime sauce. For those who want something oozing sophistication, there’s the lobster martini, made of chunks of lobster meat served in a martini glass with lemon and a lobster meat-stuffed olive.

Cousins Maine Lobster goes to where the diners are, parking outside office buildings, Universal Studio complexes, the Los Angeles Museum and city parks. Getting the word out to the public is vital to the truck’s success. The weekly schedule is sent out via all the popular social media networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, to keep customers apprised of the truck’s location all the time.

A lobster truck is an innovative way of doing business, considerably less expensive to operate than a restaurant. And to judge from the number of lobster trucks popping up across the country, these mobile lobster shacks are meeting the needs of urban dwellers for lobster on the quick. “Last Sunday afternoon we had a line of 75 people almost all afternoon,” Tselikis said. “It was great.”