Maine meets California: Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth cousins launch lobster food truck in Los Angeles
The premise is simple: Two cousins reconnect after years apart to bring fresh Maine lobster to the City of Angels.
The result is Cousins Maine Lobster, a crustacean-centric food truck recently launched on the streets of Los Angeles by Sabin Lomac, 31, originally from Scarborough, and Jim Tselikis, 27, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth.
Lomac and Tselikis have fresh lobster flown across the country the day before its served to customers. They won't identify their distributor: "We don't want our competitors out here exploiting our local connections," Tselikis said in a telephone interview.
In L.A. the lobster is served in rolls, bisque, tacos or even as a "martini" – naked in a glass.
If all goes according to the business plan, the lobster will be cooked and eaten before it's been off the ocean floor a day.
For the two cousins, the business venture is about more than just cooking and cashing in on the West Coast food truck culture.
It's about home.
"Jimmy and I, we're proud of where we're from," Lomac said. "This reminds me a lot of he and I as kids, getting together and all of us cooking lobster or going to Two Lights and having lobster rolls."
The food truck opened last weekend at an event in Artesia, Calif. Tselikis said they served about 200 people on opening day, with lobster rolls priced at $13 leading their sales.
And while fresh Maine seafood is a key selling point for the duo, it's just part of what they're trying to achieve with Cousins Maine Lobster.
On the outside of the food truck is a plasma TV, where they show videos of lobstermen out on the open ocean. Lobster traps, familiar to anyone in coastal Maine, are spread around the truck as impromptu chairs, tables or conversation pieces. Buoys, too.
"We're trying to create an experience for people," Tselikis said. "They're getting the freshest product, but they're also getting conversations with local Mainers, seeing that connection to Maine and getting information about an industry that's not really well known out here."
Lomac, a real estate broker and actor, has lived in Los Angeles for about six years. Tselikis lives in Boston and flew out to LA to help with the first couple weeks of operations. He also turned to his sister, Annie Tselikis, who works for the Maine Lobstermen's Association, as a resource on the cultural education that comes with eating at Cousins Maine Lobster.
"We thought it was important to have one of the owners out here with our director of operations and our staff, and to have the other guy, myself, on the East Coast so we can make sure our product, coming from our vendors, is going as smoothly as possible," Tselikis said.
The two cousins grew up together, but drifted apart when Lomac went to New York to pursue acting. Eventually he moved to L.A. They reconnected about three years ago.
"We started thinking of how we could work together and create something cool," Lomac said. "This is what we came up with, and it's amazing to see it become a reality."
Both cousins are nostalgic for their time spent growing up in southern Maine. Lomac recalled working at many of Scarborough's seafood institutions: Ken's, The Clam Bake and Dimitri's. Tselikis talked about how excited he is to bring Maine lobster to people who may never have had it.
"We're just spoiled with it growing up," he said. "It's so accessibly in Maine. People (in L.A.) don't get to have that experience."
Maine lobster, Homarus Americanus, is found only in the waters of the North Atlantic. Its distant relative, the "spiny" or "rock" lobster, can be found in the waters of California.
Dr. Robert Bayer, executive director of the The Lobster Institute in Orono, said that while its probably not as fresh as Cousins' product, most Angelinos who have eaten lobster probably ate the Maine variety, not its shrimpy, spiny cousin. There's even an L.A. Lobster Festival held every year, at which Maine lobster is served.
"Everybody seems to like their own lobster," Bayer said. "But it's my impression that there's not a huge demand for the spiny lobster, even in California. When I've been out there, I've never even seen one."
He said its the cousins' connection to the Maine coast that will let them stand out against their competition.
"Having Maine guys out there, selling directly to the consumer, I bet they do well, if the price is right," Bayer said.
Tselikis said people out West appreciate the "Maine mentality" the cousins bring to their business. He describes it as kind of a folksy demeanor, some kind of whimsical Maine-ness inherent to people who grew up in the Pine Tree State.
"They really appreciate that we're personal, sociable guys," Tselikis said. "That goes a long way, that mentality that all Mainers have. It's really appreciated out here."