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Networking: Ralph Gorham and Susan Povich

Co-owners, Red Hook Lobster Pound, Brooklyn, N.Y.

By James Wright
February 01, 2013

Superstorm Sandy in late October brought heavy winds from multiple directions and surging seawater to the doorsteps of millions of people in the Northeast, causing incredible damage to homes and businesses in New York and New Jersey. Sadly, one of the thousands of vehicles destroyed was Big Red, the popular Red Hook Lobster Pound food truck that served people on the streets of the city that never sleeps. Sleep? Just ask Ralph Gorham and Susan Povich, the husband-and-wife ownership team at Red Hook, about how little they’re getting while they rebuild their truck and their takeout facility that were both completely flooded. 

Named after the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, their business also includes two trucks in Washington, D.C. Gorham and Povich are riding the wave of what appears to be a lobster roll renaissance while facing stiff competition in both cities, including Luke’s Lobster (SFB Nov. 2010). When I spoke with Susan and Ralph just after New Year’s, they were still working weekends at the Brooklyn Flea as one of more than 200 vendors at the eclectic market. But they couldn’t wait to get their baby back up and running. 

How prepared did you think you were as the storm was approaching? 

RG: I don’t think anybody could have been prepared for this. We had generators, but you know what? New Yorkers have incredible denial. ‘Nah, nothing’s going to happen to me.’ The winds weren’t really the problem, it was the saltwater. I opened the door at 4 in the morning on the Tuesday after the storm and 8 inches of water came rushing out. The finger of God decided to touch New York.

How has your community helped?  

RG: We’re more of a mobile situation, whereas Luke [Holden] has four stores in Manhattan. He was actually very helpful, loaning cold storage space. He reached out to us. The neighborhood rallied around us. One of the big draws down here is us. We’re small business entrepreneurs. We can’t just go get another job. We have our lives invested in this. You just go through it I guess. A storm like this hasn’t happened in like 50 or 60 years. Nothing to the extent of a 6-foot wall of water shooting down Van Brunt Street. 

Why are lobster rolls so popular in New York and Washington right now?  

SP: I think the simple dish has always been popular. So many New Yorkers are from New England and lot of people summer up in Maine. Until we started doing it on the street, and Luke’s Lobster followed us, no one was doing lobster rolls in a truly authentic, economically accessible way. On a toasted brioche bun for $30? I don’t know that anyone focused on the perfect lobster roll. 

What makes the perfect lobster roll?  

SP: Fabulous bread and great lobster, that’s it. Very little mayo. We’re just making something that brings out the flavor in the lobster. 

With low lobster prices so highly publicized, have you encountered resistance to your prices?  

SP: We tell customers they have to understand the lobster market and that low [live] prices do not affect our costs. If processors can’t sell tails, they can’t afford to lower the price of [claw and knuckle] meat. We also explain that softshell lobsters can’t travel. 

When do you hope to reopen?   

RG: Hopefully by the end of February. You don’t understand how much work is involved until you get into it. Contractors are having a heyday down here. High demand and not a lot of product, the price goes up. Kind of like lobster. 

 

February 2013 - SeaFood Business    

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