Building the Boothbay brand
Is Boothbay Harbor becoming a brand? If Willie Craig has his way, the answer will be a resounding yes. For the past two years, Craig has been operating the Boothbay Lobster Company out of a food truck in Stamford, Connecticut and will soon be opening a 2,700-square-foot restaurant of the same name.
His connection to Boothbay Harbor began as a youth when he spent his summers here with parents Susan and George Craig, both of whom are now permanent residents. The idea was hatched in late 2014 by George Craig and business partner Dave Galin, a former Portland school district assistant superintendent with restaurant experience. After Willie Craig graduated from Vanderbilt University two years ago with a degree in business development, he joined his father’s company and began to think beyond the food truck model.
“We were inspired by the fresh and basic seafood in Boothbay Harbor,” said Willie Craig. “We wanted to bring that model to Connecticut because there was a need.”
The majority of their lobsters are purchased from Boothbay lobsterman Dan Lewis while other ingredients are sourced from Maine, including vegetables from Goranson Farms in Dresden and Smith’s Log Smokehouse in Monroe.
The commitment to quality and freshness isn’t always convenient and comes with considerable transportation costs. The company sends a truck from Portland to Boothbay, picks up fresh lobsters from Lewis and then steams, picks and eventually trucks the meat back to Stamford from a commissary in Portland. Due to the relatively small size of the food truck, overhead is at a premium and stock rotation is essential. To Craig, it’s a necessary evil to maintain the integrity of his business model. As the company grows into a traditional bricks and mortar space, the quality will remain, said Craig.
“We stay away from mass-harvested and use day boats,” said Craig. “It’s an essential part of our model.”
In June, Craig brought his entire 25-person crew to Boothbay Harbor to learn where their food comes from and create a personal connection to the products they serve. The crew had a chance to see the working life of a lobsterman, tour the harbor, and experience what makes the Boothbay region such a draw in the summer.
“Boothbay Harbor is drastically different from Stamford,” said Craig. “I wanted them to feel the relaxed vibe of Maine and bring that environment to our company. It gives them firsthand knowledge.”
With fresh, live lobster a nearly ubiquitous presence in seafood markets nationwide, how much value does lobster sourced from Maine add? According to a report by the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, a Maine lobster is worth almost $7 more on average. In addition, it’s rare to find on a menu. On the East Coast, just four percent of 2,200 upscale restaurants surveyed between Maine and Baltimore offered Maine lobster, according to a 2015 report by Maine Public Broadcasting. While the Boothbay Lobster Company is decidedly downscale in aesthetics, the opportunity to eat the luxury crustacean is hard to resist.
“Business has been good,” said Craig. “Our menu is really limited but to us that’s a good thing. It means what’s on it is fresh.”