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Networking: Luke Holden
President, Luke's Lobster, New York
By James Wright
November 01, 2010
"We’re all in this together — we’re young and learning to do things. Everyone’s got a hand in it and has a voice. There’s no preconceived ways of doing business."
A summertime visit to Maine would be incomplete without at least one moist and tender lobster roll, which just might be the simplest seafood dish ever conceived: steamed lobster meat served cold with a touch of mayonnaise and spices placed in a split-top bun grilled with butter. When native Mainer Luke Holden, 26, moved to New York City to work
in banking after graduating from Georgetown University, he found inferior versions of the sandwich "drowning in mayo and selling for $30."
Holden, son of Portland Shellfish Co. President Jeff Holden, knew he could do better - so he did. With his father as supplier, a solid business plan and a heaping helping of youthful motivation (not to mention knuckle and claw meat), Luke jilted Wall Street and launched Luke's Lobster in the city's East Village neighborhood in October 2009; a second location on the Upper East Side opened in May. Business is booming, and the young entrepreneur already boasts a "Today Show" appearance.
Wright: With wholesale prices low, why are lobsters still so expensive on restaurant menus in the city?
Holden: The reason [restaurants] charge what they do is that's what they need to do to make ends meet. If you buy a hamburger for $10, there's what, $2 of material in that? People still associate lobster with a luxury experience. What nobody anticipated was someone bringing a higher quality product into the city at half the price ($14). And we're more of a Downeast lobster shack than a Manhattan-style restaurant.
When did you start working with lobsters and what role does your
father play with Luke's Lobster?
I was in [my father's] processing plant at 8 or 9 years old. I was probably working a month or so in the summers when I was 12 or 13. When I was 15, I worked a full summer at the processing plant and at 16 I was a sternman on a boat. [My father] is a partner as well, and the most important one, as he supplies all the seafood.
There are two of us down here with our sleeves up, day to day, but he's a mentor just a phone call away. No one here has restaurant experience, but the old man has a lot of general experience being an entrepreneur for 30 years. He was very helpful getting this whole thing off the ground. But he's a fish out of water here, born and raised in Maine. We have to keep him out of the subway system.
Your staff is very young. What challenges and benefits does
that youth provide?
It's by far the proudest piece of this company. We have an awesome team. There's no one that I'm not friendly with and totally appreciate and respect. We're all in this together - we're young and learning to do things. Everyone's got a hand in it and has a voice. There's no preconceived ways of doing business.
You use social media extensively. How important is your online presence?
It's unbelievable. Social media is an incredible tool for small business owners. It doesn't cost a thing and it allows you to build a community and interact with people who care about you and not just about what you're offering. Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Foursquare - they're all different platforms that enable you to engage the people who seek you out. There are so many opportunities to use social media to simply say "thank you."