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June 27, 2020

Bob's Clam Hut, a Kittery institution, is changing hands

Courtesy / Bob’s Clam Hut Michael Landgarten is selling Bob’s Clam Hut, a Kittery institution for 64 years, to First Serve Hospitality Group for an undisclosed sum.

Bob’s Clam Hut, a Kittery institution for 64 years, is due to change hands this week as the seller prepares to trim his work schedule.

Michael Landgarten is selling the business and the property, at 315 US Route 1, to First Serve Hospitality Group for an undisclosed sum. The deal is expected to close June 30.

First Serve Hospitality a Maine-based family-owned business, bought Landgarten's Robert's Maine Grill in 2016, and owns Mabel's Lobster Claw and Mabel's House (formerly Edgewater Inn), both in Kennebunkport. 

Of Bob's Clam Hut, Landgarten said: “It’s a joyous place. But it’s time for me and my wife to evolve in a new way.”

Before the bustle

Kittery native Robert "Bob" Kraft Sr. (no relation to the Patriots' owner), who loved to harvest clams as a child, opened Bob’s Clam Hut in 1956, on an unused stretch of his parent’s backyard adjacent to the Spruce Creek clam flats, according to the website’s bio.

It was long before U.S. Route 1 bustled with traffic to Kittery's outlet shops. But local residents patronized Bob’s for his fried clams and lobster rolls.

Landgarten grew up in Worcester, Mass., and came to Maine to attend Bowdoin College. At college, he enjoyed patronizing clam shacks along the coast, including Bob’s.

In 1986, he was in his late 20s when he was laid off from a computer programming job in Boston and was in the market for a business, according to a company bio.

A retired real estate agent who was a friend of the family suggested to Landgarten that he consider buying Bob’s, which was being marketed quietly. 

Landgarten wasn’t sure the clam hut was a good fit for him, but he worked in the restaurant for a day to see if it felt right. 

“I fell in love,” he said. “This was a place where people really cared about what they were doing, cared about each other.”

He worked days at Bob’s to learn the business and spent nights writing a business plan. Ten banks turned away his loan application; the 11th approved it and he bought Bob’s in 1986.

Landgarten continued using all of the same recipes created by Kraft, but also introduced some of his own menu items.

Courtesy / Bob’s Clam Hut
Michael Landgarten bought Bob’s Clam Hut in 1986.

In 1989, he expanded the kitchen and added four fryers and a second pick-up window. Another remodel in 1991 brought an indoor heated seating area and customer bathrooms.

In 2002, after a team from Bob’s renovated and decorated a transitional housing apartment for Fair Tide, a Kittery nonprofit that provides housing solutions for the homeless, Bob’s won the Governor’s State of Maine Small Business of the Year Volunteerism Award. In 2011, Bob’s became the founding and presenting sponsor of the Kittery Block Party, an annual event featuring crafts, games, food and entertainment, with proceeds benefiting local nonprofits. 

In 2006, Landgarten built and opened Robert’s Maine Grill, a 300-seat restaurant across the street from Bob’s. He instituted environmental practices such as recycling centers, compostable paper and plastic, and an offsite solar farm connected to roof top panels to fully power his operations.

In 2014, he opened another restaurant called Lil’s Café in Kittery Foreside. The restaurant was named after Lillian Mangos, whom he hired as a cashier at age 60 in 1986 and who became a popular fixture.

Since 1999, Bob’s has received regional and national recognition from outlets that included Forbes, Esquire, USA Today, Yankee, Down East and the Food Network TV series Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

Courtesy / Bob’s Clam Hut
Bob’s has been recognized by national outlets such as Forbes, Esquire and the Food Network TV series Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

For the restaurant industry, Landgarten is somewhat unconventional in his management style, seeking to focus on mission rather than finance, he said. 

“I do a lot of manager training on far-reaching subjects, like listening and being present,” he said. “We have health insurance, 401(k), paid time off: A really strong benefits package that’s highly progressive for the restaurant industry.”

Landgarten sold Robert’s Maine Grill in 2016 to First Serve Hospitality Group, the same group that is now buying Bob’s Clam Hut. 

“I didn’t know them very well when I sold Robert’s,” he said of First Serve. “But they’ve done a wonderful job there.”

Landgarten said he tried two internal sale options, beginning in 2018, for Bob’s. Both fell through. 

He then approached First Serve, which agreed to buy Bob’s. Landgarten retains Lil’s. A short-lived Bob’s Clam Hut in Portland was sold in April to a separate group and will operate under a different name, he noted.

Landgarten, who lives in Kittery Point, isn’t sure what’s up next for him and his wife. But he doesn’t plan to sit back.

“I’m not good at sitting at home and seeing the checks come in,” he said of his restaurants. “I care too much about how it goes. But I don’t have the energy to keep my eye on things and be involved.”

He added, “I love Bob’s. It’s been the best work thing that ever happened to me.”


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August 5, 2020

The corporate take over fear of Bob's quality being diminished has come true. I was there a month ago shortly after the sale and all was well. I was there today and was stunned and wholly pissed off. Been going there forever. Since the 60's. Never again.
Fool me once.
Half and Half dinner one month ago was $23.95. Today $29.95. A $6 dollar increase!
A side of tarter sauce or cocktail sauce was $1.50. Now almost $4 dollars. Portions on dinner plate are much smaller due to the old trick of placing a mountain of fries under the seafood to make it visually appear like there is a huge amount. I disassembled the meal and put seafood on one side and fries on the other. I was stunned.
Tiny dab of butter harvested from a bulk container was put in a plastic cup. No more individual sealed butters for the rolls. Not even sure it was butter. It had no flavor.
Coleslaw was absolutely dry.
I could go on but want to refrain from a thesis size rant. I do wish Michael Landgarten, the former owner, had included in his sale contract a clause naming him a spot checker of quality control. But I suppose that defeats the purpose of selling the place to create more time for oneself.
The only thing permanent in life is change. But this change is no good. Now I have to find a new go to place. Maybe Ray's or Al's. I have no idea. I feel like I've lost a beloved pet.

June 30, 2020

Usually when a corporation takes over a family business , both the quality and the service suffers greatly. Hope this isn't the case for this awesome place.

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