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May 28, 2019

Luke's Lobster all set for June 5 opening on Portland waterfront

Luke's Lobster new location in Portland Photo / Renee Cordes Luke's Lobster, at 60 Portland Pier, will open for business on June 5. It's the 28th location in the United States for the Saco-based company.

 When Luke’s Lobster opens in Portland next week, it will do so with a 100-strong workforce that includes a head chef returning to Maine after 13 years away.

The chef, Harpswell-born Zac Leeman, will lead the kitchen at the 28th U.S. location for the Saco-based company, which is headed by CEO and founder Luke Holden, a third-generation lobsterman who grew up in Cape Elizabeth.

The Portland Pier venue will be able to seat 140 inside and 30 outside.

“It’s definitely a big location for us, but we wanted to make sure we’re able to provide the best possible service,” co-founder and chief marketing officer Ben Conniff told Mainebiz. “We’re going to be open seven days a week, and we need people to cover all the shifts.”

With the June 5 opening approaching, Conniff said the kitchen is done and that remaining tasks include putting finishing touches on decor and bringing in furniture as well as staff training.

Unexpected interest from job applicants

Ben Conniff
Courtesy / Luke's Lobster
Ben Conniff is a co-founder and chief marketing officer of Luke's Lobster.

Conniff said that while there had been initial worries about hiring, interest was high in part because of the company’s new status as a certified B Corporation and its commitment to working with local lobstermen — in this case on Portland's working waterfront.

“The idea of working with a seafood company that was directly invested in the lobstermen right there at the dock, and our larger-scale mission to support coastal communities in Maine, got us a lot more applicants than we expected,” he said.

He added: “B Corp status speaks not just to our mission, but also how we treat suppliers and our investment in our team. As employers, it’s about always offering the best in class in pay and benefits. It’s also more about leadership style, where everyone’s feedback matters and people have the ability to be upwardly mobile.”

From the Big Apple to Portland

Luke’s Lobster has been around since 2009, when it opened in New York’s East Village. It says on its website that it works directly with fishermen to pick the best seafood, bring it straight to its own seafood company and ship directly to its shacks.

Outside the United States, Luke’s Lobster has nine locations in Japan and one in Taiwan. 

Its investment in Maine's biggest city of well over $1 million includes a massive renovation of the Portland Pier that involved replacing all the decking, pylons and floating docks and bringing fresh water and electricity to the berths.

“We wanted to be in Portland for years, but we wanted the right moment to make the right impact,” Conniff said. “That meant being able to not just have a restaurant, but to support and showcase the fishery that we depend on and that the state depends on.”

Luke’s Lobster, at 60 Portland Pier, will have opening hours of 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday.

At lunchtime, there will be a downstairs counter service (where customers can order at a counter, grab a seat and are then buzzed when the food is ready) and an upstairs table service. Dinner will be table-service only in a casual setting. 

Conniff said they won't be taking reservations to start, but will have to evaluate that as they get into the season.

Further expansion on the horizon

Conniff told Mainebiz that while the immediate focus is on getting the Portland location up and running, further expansion is still in the cards.

“We want to make sure that our homecoming is perfect,” he said. “Once we’re through this summer, we’ll get back in the real estate game and start looking for more locations in other cities.”


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