An Arizona lobster drive-thru business that touts a $9.99 lobster roll has purchased a Maine wharf with the intent to cut out the middleman and maintain its extremely low price point.
Angie’s Lobster said this week that it bought a wharf on Bailey Island and started a lobster processing operation in Maine. The move, which the company claims is designed to offset inflation, is a rare example of an out-of-state company attempting to create a vertically integrated business in the Maine lobster industry.
Lobster rolls in Maine now regularly go for upward of $30, but Angie’s co-founders Tony and Roushan Christofellis say they’ve invested $10 million and plan to build the “most efficient restaurant business the world has ever seen” by owning every step of the process and eliminating third parties wherever they can.
The husband-and-wife duo had plans to buy directly from Maine lobstermen and process their own lobsters at some point in the future but decided to pull the trigger now as they try to get eight lobster drive-thrus in Arizona up and running in the next year.
“The initial plan was to accomplish this within 10 years, but we couldn’t wait,” Tony Christofellis said in a statement. “[W]e had to take control of our destiny to accomplish our mission of making lobster affordable to everyone.”
The drive-thrus will have no seating, low operating costs and only two menu items: a lobster roll and fried lobster tail.
The couple claims they will do good for Maine fishermen by paying them “more for their catch and lowering the cost of fuel and bait,” while also providing consistent revenue. Christofellis said he’d do that by selling both fuel and bait at cost and without the usual markups that most wharfs have.
“We didn’t buy the wharf to be a profit center,” he said.
While some out-of-state companies own wharfs in Maine, it is unusual for an out-of-state restaurant business to also start a buying station and a processing facility in the Pine Tree State.
In fact, that top-to-bottom approach is rare in the highly segmented Maine lobster business.
“Being vertically integrated is uncommon in this industry,” said Marianne LaCroix, the head of the executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative.
The only other company with a similar business practice that LaCroix could recall is Luke’s Lobster. That company purchases and processes lobster in Saco for its restaurants on both the East and West coasts.
Lobster is commonly purchased from lobstermen by buyers and dealers at wharfs. The buyers and dealers then usually sell the crustaceans to food service companies, restaurants or other distributors.
Some wharfs have their own on-site restaurants and may ship lobsters directly to customers. Other wharfs have their own processing plants. But it’s rare for an out-of-state restaurant to have its own wharf and processing facility.