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Maine lobster rolls rumble into New York City

First published in Landings, July, 2013.

The Lobster Roll Rumble is part food industry trade show, part incredible cocktail party. And it’s huge. The sold-out Rumble which took place in New York City in June, had 1,300 attendees, more people than year-round residents of Stonington. Twenty lobster roll businesses from around the country competed for bragging rights. Co-sponsoring partners ranged from Don Julio tequilas and Haagen-Dazs to Bordeaux wines and the Maine Office of Tourism.

I attended this year because my brother Jim Tselikis and our cousin Sabin Lomac entered their Los Angeles, California-based Cousins Maine Lobster in the competition for the first time. Their booth was next to the Luke’s Lobster, which was a nice coincidence as my brother and Luke Holden grew up together in Cape Elizabeth.

In 2011, Luke’s Lobster in New York and Washington, DC (with newly expanded Philadelphia operations) won the competition. The Clam Shack of Kennebunkport unseated Luke’s in 2012 and maintained their well deserved title in 2013. Owner Steve Kingston outlines the entire supply chain for his acclaimed lobster roll – from the lobsterman, to the “mother-shucker” to the roll baker and the owner – all of whom were represented at the event with life-sized cardboard cutouts if they weren’t present in person.

Mother Shucker Mike Cymbrak worked the crowd as they waited in the longest and deepest line of the event. I stood in that line for fifteen minutes and it was worth the wait. Then I sampled about half of the other rolls offered at the event. Some were over packed with spices, some had additions like celery or lettuce or simply went too heavy on the mayonnaise. I even had one with carrots! The traditional, no-frills New England style rolls with high quality, tender and sweet lobster meat were the winners in my opinion.

It’s amazing to think of the costs associated with the event for the individual businesses participating. With hotel rooms, transportation to and around New York City, and raw materials, this can be an expensive marketing initiative for a small business. But it can also be worthwhile. Half of the businesses participating in the competition were from New York, two from the D.C. area, five from New England, two from California and one from Chicago. It was apparent that the companies that operate locally would stand to benefit the most.

Given the chance, I would certainly make another vacation around the Lobster Roll Rumble. It’s a great party, but also serves a great cause. Tasting Table, the event sponsor, donates 10% of its ticket sales to Share our Strength, a national non-profit dedicated to ending childhood hunger through its No Kid Hungry campaign.

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