May 15, 2013

Maine lobster a major treat on D.C. streets

Sales are on a roll for a roving business that gets many of its seafood products from Maine and offers them curbside.

By Kevin Miller
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON – It's lunchtime on a warm, sunny Friday in downtown Washington.

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The Red Hook Lobster Pound DC food truck welcomed hundreds of customers during lunch at Farragut Square in Washington DC on a sunny Friday, May 10, 2013.

Photo by John Boal

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Roxanne Namazi, left, and Hiba Anwar, enjoyed their first lobster rolls from The Red Hook Lobster Pound DC food truck as they sat in the shade at Farragut Square in Washington DC on Friday, May 10, 2013.

Photo by John Boal

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The sidewalks around Farragut Square -- a postage stamp of grass and benches two blocks from the White House -- are packed with hundreds of hungry workers mulling the culinary choices offered by two dozen kitchens on wheels.

Afghan kabobs? Fried Asian dumplings? Peruvian pork tenderloin with grilled sweet potato? Gourmet mac 'n' cheese?

Kelly Seymour and Sara Eppes bypassed all of them and headed straight for the long line of people waiting for Maine lobster served up curbside from a truck.

"I'm a lobster fan, and this is the best lobster roll I have ever had," said Seymour, a loyal customer of Red Hook Lobster Pound DC's food truck, as she pointed to her $15 roll piled with lobster from Maine processors.

"It's just such a treat," said Eppes, who somewhat sheepishly confessed to tracking the roving truck via Facebook and Twitter to find out what days it would be parked nearby. "Even though it's expensive, you get your money's worth."

Gourmet lunch trucks have become big business in the nation's capital in the past three years – so big that traditional restaurants are pressuring the city to restrict where and how long they can park.

And if the lines are any indication, dishing out Maine lobster on the streets of D.C. is good business. The Red Hook truck consistently had one of the longest lines Friday. It ran out of its Maine-style rolls in less than two hours, although customers who craved lobster still could order the hot and buttery Connecticut-style roll.

The food truck's success wasn't guaranteed when it started in the summer of 2010.

"We kind of rolled the dice," said Leland Morris, president of Red Hook Lobster Pound DC. "We didn't know what the reaction would be to, one, a seafood sandwich sold from a truck and, two, a $15 seafood sandwich from a truck."

In fact, Morris and his partner, Doug Povich, had to convince city officials that nothing in Washington's health code precluded the sale of seafood from a food truck. But a year after launching the first truck, Red Hook added one in Manhattan and another in Washington.

The company actually started in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, N.Y. – hence the name – when Ralph Gorham and his wife, Susan Povich, decided there was an untapped market for live lobsters in the trendy neighborhood.

Gorham began making twice-weekly trips to Maine -- where Povich's family has a home -- to buy the lobsters that would be sold in their small storefront.

The business took off when Povich -- a trained chef whose father is talk show celebrity Maury Povich -- began selling Maine lobster rolls at the lobster pound and at a big flea market in Brooklyn.

Doug Povich, who is Susan Povich's cousin, eventually convinced the skeptical couple to let him try a food truck to sell lobster rolls in Washington.

Lobster Pound DC now has more than 25,000 followers on Twitter (@LobstertruckDC) and was named the Best Food Truck in 2012 by readers of the Washington City Paper.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine uses the company for her annual lobster-themed fundraiser in Washington, as does Bloomberg for its star-studded party that follows the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Red Hook buys its lobster from multiple Maine suppliers, including processed meat from Shucks Maine Lobster in Richmond and Cozy Harbor Seafood in Portland, said Susan Povich.

Customers of Lobster Pound DC can choose a traditional Maine-style lobster roll piled high with meat in a light mayo-lemon sauce (with a paprika twist) or a Connecticut-style roll with buttered lobster meat served hot.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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A fresh Maine Style lobster roll, fresh from The Red Hook Lobster Pound DC food truck at Farragut Square in Washington DC on a sunny Friday, May 10, 2013.

Photo by John Boal

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A customer leaves with lunch as dozens of others line up to purchase their own at The Red Hook Lobster Pound DC food truck in Washington D.C.

Photo by John Boal


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