Over the decades, the restaurant perched on the rocky shoreline of Cape Elizabeth became a landmark destination — not only for locals who craved its trademark lobster rolls, but for thousands of tourists who came to watch waves batter the coast while they waited for their orders.

Ruth G. Leadbetter and her husband, James W. Leadbetter, took great pride in founding and operating The Lobster Shack at Two Lights.

Mrs. Leadbetter, a resident of Portland, died Friday with her family at her side. She was 92 years old. Her husband died in 2010 at age 95.

The third-generation family-owned restaurant is now operated by the Leadbetters’ grandson and his wife.

Katie and Jeff Porch of Cumberland plan to open The Lobster Shack and its companion business, The Candle Shack gift shop, for its 43rd season on March 24.

“You couldn’t have asked to be handed anything better than this business. It is definitely something to be thankful for,” Katie Porch said.

Porch credits her husband’s grandparents for developing a business that has thrived since the Leadbetters opened the Lobster Shack in 1969.

In 2009, The Lobster Shack received the Maine Family Owned Business of the Year award from the Institute for Family Owned Businesses in Brunswick.

The Leadbetters’ daughter, Martha Leadbetter Porch of Cumberland Center, said the award was given to a business that employed family members who gave back to the community.

Porch said her father raised thousands of dollars from selling sand dollars that he painted outside the restaurant — a hobby that allowed him to help the Cape Elizabeth Water Extrication Team purchase a new vehicle.

She said her parents bought the business in 1968 from two women who would sell lobster and crab rolls until they ran out of meat. There has been a business on the property since the 1920s, she said.

Now, the Lobster Shack is a full-service restaurant with the capacity to seat 50 people inside. Outdoor seating at picnic tables can accommodate hundreds of customers.

In 1974, Ruth Leadbetter and her husband opened The Candle Shack — a gift shop located a few feet away from the restaurant.

A door to their home was attached to the gift shop, Katie Porch recalled.

“They were very personable and open people,” Porch said. “They would invite customers into their home and let them walk around. They truly liked to connect with their customers.”

The couple spent their winters in Sedona, Ariz., where they became skilled pottery makers.

Porch said the Leadbetters sold their pottery at their Cape Elizabeth gift shop. The couple ran the shop until 2010.

Porch said her grandmother- and grandfather-in-law were a well-matched couple who worked together to grow their business at the end of Two Lights Road.

They were married in 1941.

Before founding The Lobster Shack, James Leadbetter already had experience in running a family business — he and his mother, Nancy, operated Leadbetter’s Bakery in Portland’s Deering Center for a number of years.

Martha Porch, James and Ruth Leadbetter’s daughter, said her parents operated The Lobster Shack for about 10 years. In 1978, she and her husband, Herbert, acquired the business and ran it for 27 years before passing it on to the third generation, their son, Jeff.

Martha still works at the restaurant. “I do a little bit of everything,” she said, from baking pies to working on the grill.

During her ownership, her parents remained actively involved in the restaurant and gift shop.

And over the years, the restaurant’s reputation grew.

It was featured on TV shows, guides and books, and had several reviews appear in media such as Serious Eats, the Boston Globe, USA Today, Bon Appetit, The Food Network and Gourmet Magazine.

Katie Porch said the business continues to flourish. It’s not unusual for the restaurant to serve 1,500 customers on a busy summer day.

But none of the success could have happened if it had not been for the Leadbetters.

“Everything was an opportunity to (James Leadbetter). He was always dreaming. And Ruth was always there to support him,” Porch said.

Relatives and friends are invited to a Mass of Christian Burial at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The service will be held at St. Pius X Church, 492 Ocean Ave. in Portland.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]