Nunan’s Lobster Hut keeps traditions alive

First published in, Landings, August 2017

On any given summer night in Cape Porpoise, you will find a line of customers stretching out the door at Nunan’s Lobster Hut, just as they have since 1953. That was the year that George Nunan founded the business that has become a mainstay and anchor in this tiny fishing village in Kennebunkport. The Nunan family intends to keep it this way for many generations to come.

Today the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of George Nunan run the Lobster Hut. His great-great-grandchildren are growing up in the business as well.

“This land where the Hut sits has been in the family since the early 1800s, when our ancestor Charles Nunan came to Boston from Ireland. His children settled here. My grandfather, George Nunan, opened the Hut as a way to semi-retire and make a little extra money,” explained Richard “Yogi” Nunan. George Nunan started out selling lobsters that he cooked outside the house near his workshop and served on picnic tables.  Then a kitchen was added to the workshop. “The first section of the building [one of three sections that were added over time] came here from Pier Road. That was 64 years ago and not much has changed since then,” Nunan said. 

Yogi, 57, and his brother Keith, 52, are the sons of the late Clayton, George’s son, and Bertha Nunan. With their respective spouses and Yogi’s two sons Jonathan and Ben, their wives, and the extended family, they keep Nunan’s Lobster Hut running.

“We catch ‘em, we cook ‘em, we crack ‘em, you eat ‘em” has been the longtime Nunan’s slogan which sums up the offerings at the restaurant perfectly. Yogi, Keith and Jonathan catch all the lobsters served at the Hut.

The Lobster Hut’s

Yogi fishes on his boat Rhiannon, Keith on his boat Merry-Mac and Jonathan on Vengeance. Ben alternates working on both his father’s and his brother’s boats. All four Nunan men also work in the restaurant at night, doing whatever needs to be done in the kitchen and elsewhere.

Keith’s wife Kimberly makes all the homemade pies and manages the front of the house along with Yogi’s wife Terri, who is also the office manager and works the front as a hostess and taking food orders.

“Kim and Terri work well together. I like to say they are the brains of the place and we are the brawn,” Keith said with a chuckle. “There is always at least one member of the family working here and more often than not two or three,” Yogi added.

The Nunans say the secret to the restaurant’s longevity and success is simple. “We cook our lobster in the exact same way we always have, for 20 minutes whether there is one lobster in the kettle or ten in it,” Yogi said. The kitchen timers are all original, made by a boatbuilder at the former Baum’s Boatyard in the early 1950s. “They are located right next to the clock, one for each kettle. A peg is moved to show when each kettle is ready and the lobsters are cooked,”

Keith said. “The tables in the restaurant are also made from leftover teak used at Baum’s Boatyard many years ago,” Yogi said.

In addition to the freshest lobster available, Nunan’s is also well known for its delectable lobster stew, made from an old recipe that Bertha’s mother Pearl used. “All the lobster meat is handpicked at The Hut. The quality control can’t be beat,” Ben commented.

The only thing that has changed over the years is that Nunan’s has expanded the live lobster end of its business by constructing a  closed seawater filtration building on the premises with a giant icebox.

When asked if they have ever considered branching out or opening another Nunan’s, Jonathan said, “I don’t think this place could ever be duplicated. It’s one-of-a-kind and we like it this way.” “Zoning wouldn’t allow us to even if we wanted to,” Yogi added.

Yogi, Keith, Jon and Ben Nunan at the Hut.
Photos by S. Wigglesworth.

The Nunan family has seen a lot of faces come through the Hut doors over the years. In addition to the thousands of tourists and locals who have watched generations of Nunans grow up, many celebrities have come to love eating at Nunan’s as well.

Hugh O’Brian,  who played Wyatt Earp on television, lobstered with Clayton Nunan in the 1960s while he was in the area for a performance at the Ogunquit Playhouse. Three U.S. Presidents have eaten at the Hut: Richard Nixon, George Bush Sr. and George Bush Jr. In addition, Paul Newman, Sean Penn, Fred Gwynn, Johnny Galecki, and singer Lenny Kravitz have all eaten there, as well as the crew from the movie Empire Falls, Conan O‘Brien, Ed Murray and others. “People come by just so they can say they ate here, whether they are famous or not. But once they do eat here, they are hooked,” Keith said.

“I think people appreciate a family-run business,” Yogi said. “We pride ourselves on hiring local people, and generations of families have been employed here over the years in addition to our own family. We use local vendors for our non-seafood offerings and we support each other in the community. We value investing in the locals and we value our customers who have become friends. At Nunan’s we are fifth-generation living history.”