Lobster Roll Festival Benefits Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance

First published in, Landings, August 2017

Saturday, July 8, was bright and sunny for the first annual Down East Lobster Roll Festival, organized by Down East magazine, at Thompson’s Point in Portland. More than 2,500 people poured through the gates situated between towers of lobster traps donated by Brooks Trap Mill, eager to try lobster rolls, buy Mainemade products and meet the cows from Kate’s Butter. The best part? The festival was a fundraiser: $4 from the sale of every $15 lobster roll was directed to the Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance (MLCA).

MLA health insurance navigator Alisha Keezer, left, and membership director Antonina Pelletier, right, staff the MLCA booth at the Festival. MLCA photo.

“We’re very excited to be this year’s recipient,” said MLCA president Patrice McCarron. “The MLCA’s programs focus on research, education and charitable giving. We are particularly proud of the Maine Lobster Leadership Institute, now in its second year.” The Institute takes young lobstermen off their boats and out of their harbors to give them a comprehensive understanding of the lobster industry and its impact statewide, nationally and internationally. The participants travel to Prince Edward Island to learn about the Canadian side of the industry.

The Lobster Roll Festival included a contest to find the best lobster roll. Twelve semi-finalists from throughout the country competed for the public’s votes. Five judges, including lobsterman Sonny Beal, chose the winner from the top three. “There wasn’t a bad lobster roll in the house,” Beal said. “I didn’t realize that there were so many ways to make a lobster roll taste good!” The three finalists were Kennebunkport’s The Clam Shack, Presque Isle’s Northern Maine Community College, and the eventual winner, Freshie’s Lobster Co. of Park City, Utah. Freshie’s owners, Lorin and Ben Smaha, originally hail from Maine and New Hampshire.

The Down East Lobster Roll Festival was not just about lobster rolls but also about the community that surrounds the industry. More than thirty vendors selling Maine products, many lobster-themed, were present. Friendship Lobster Treats makes gourmet crackers with Maine lobster and Kate’s Butter.

“I wanted to be at the event because everyone attending must be fans of lobster,” said owner Pat Havener. “I had fun handing out samples and introducing people to our product.”

2017 Lobster Roll Festival winners Ben
and Lorin Smaha of Park City, Utah.
Photo courtesy of Down East

Live music from Falmouth’s community ukulele band The Flukes kicked off the day. The headline group, Erica Brown and the Bluegrass Connection, came on next but not for long. Sadly, the day came to an abrupt close as a heavy thunderstorm rolled through at about 2 p.m. The storm brought violent wind gusts and hail that damaged infrastructure, tents and products. Thompson’s Point staff quickly evacuated all attendees and vendors safely and no one was injured. People were invited into the brick building adjacent to the grounds and treated to free lobster rolls and ice cream. A scheduled fly-in from Life Flight’s Lobster Chopper took place at 4 p.m. but observers were kept to the parking lot due to the amount of debris remaining on the field.

Down East magazine has committed to bringing back its Lobster Roll Festival next year. “Certainly [there are] some things to improve on for next year and the weather is definitely one of them!” said organizer and editor-in-chief Kathleen Fleury.

“It is unfortunate about the weather but it was a great opportunity to connect with the public and let them know what we do,” McCarron said. “We’re grateful to be the charitable recipient and we know you can’t control the weather.” Sonny Beal agreed. “I was honored to be one of the judges. It was a great event and I’d be happy to come back next year!”