Laura MacMahon, the daughter of Young’s Clambake owner Bill Young, serves up food at a traditional clambake. The family catered to the community for decades, but is now closed for good. Courtesy

NORTH YARMOUTH — After more than half a century steaming shellfish and serving it to countless customers, Bill Young is closing down Young’s Clambake, his family’s popular local catering business.

Young started working for his dad when he was 13 and, now in his 60s, he said he is ready to let Young’s Clambake and BB Ques go. While it’s been fun over the past 51 years, challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic – coupled with family employees being busier and a difficulty procuring seafood – prompted the decision.

“We made it this far and it’s fine, I am good with it, it’s a tough decision when you’ve been doing something that long to give it up, but it was time,” Young said.

The eatery was founded in 1969 by his father, Bob Young, a retired military man known simply by his former rank, “The Colonel.” The business started out by serving chicken barbecue at offsite events, but with little competition and the coastal area to take advantage of, the Youngs expanded to include a traditional clambake.

“We tried to make it an event, we open up the bake and serve food right out of it, it was more than just the food in a way,” Young said.

While traditional clambakes are done in pits, he said, you “can’t move a pit around” when you’re going from place to place.

“We suspend a plate on a cement block and add a layer of seaweed,” Young said. “Then we put red potatoes on the bottom, the clams we put around the perimeter of the plate and the lobsters we lay in the center on top of the potatoes. You always want to take the band off the lobster, the band will cook through the shell and you will get bitter meat in the claw.”

Sometimes it was a labor of love, he said, but other times Young was the one who had to take rubber bands off of up to 3,000 lobsters for larger events.

“If I had a dollar for every lobster I served I’d be a millionaire,” he said. 

With all of his events canceled in March due to the pandemic, Young figured it was a good time to call it quits.

“It’s going to be missed,” local resident Pam Ames said. Ames has known the Young family her entire life and remembers helping out with one of their first barbecues.

I remember being nervous because they were such pros at it,” she said. “They were known for top quality, you could just count on the Youngs to show up on time and put a wonderful lobster bake together.”

Young is closing up shop in part because the business was mainly staffed by his family and a few seasonal employees, just like it was when he was a teen. But most of the family members are pursuing other interests and without them there’s not enough help.

“Everyone (in the family) is kind of doing their own thing now, which I understand,” Young said.

Over the years, reliable fishermen his family purchased seafood from have thinned out, he said. Now, getting the shellfish can be a hassle and he sometimes had to travel over an hour to buy product on the same day he held clambakes.

“It was just stressful, when you are the one doing payroll, going out and buying the seafood, taking care of taxes,” Young said. “There is always so many people to deal with, the clam dealers, lobster dealers.”

“I’m 64 now, it is time for me slow things down a little bit,” Young said, although he will continue working full time as an EMT with the York County Tactical Team.

Without any events lined up, Young is selling the barbecue equipment, now stored at his home on Sweetser Road.

“Hopefully with that, we may see a new generation step up,” said longtime customer Ames.

Local resident Bryan Haight also has fond memories of family barbecues cooked by Young’s.

“I have an older brother and sister, and my father and family loved it so much that he rehired him for all three of our graduations,” Haight said.

Haight, in response to the announcement of the closure, also recalled Young’s impact on his life as his hockey coach and one of the EMTs that helped his son with a trip to the hospital.

“My son graduates in four years; I wish I could have had them do a clambake for his graduation party,” he said.

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