By Julie Parise, CBSNewYork.com.
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – On Friday morning, the much-awaited Financial District version of Luke’s Lobster opened – and the two guys behind the restaurant are, in their own words, “pretty psyched about it.”
It’s our guess they’re not the only ones.
New York City has been exceptionally receptive to the team’s mission: Bringing the best of the Maine coast to the Big Apple with a reasonably priced, well-prepared lobster roll.
Since opening their first restaurant in the East Village in October of 2009, Luke Holden and Ben Conniff, president and vice president respectively, quickly expanded their operation to the Upper East and Upper West Sides. This spring, they took to the city streets with a food truck (dubbed the “Nauti Mobile”), which has brought them increased recognition amongst New Yorkers.
Related: New York City’s Best Lobster Rolls
Just a few steps from South Ferry, the new Luke’s Lobster sits on South William Street. The restaurant features the same menu as the other three locations, serving authentic Maine goodness – right down to the bread.
“We’re still going to serve as many Maine products as possible – Maine-made buns and Maine organic sodas,” said Holden.
All of the restaurant’s soups come straight from Maine, as well (try the spice crab sweet potato bisque), and in about two months, they’ll be serving bottled Maine brews like Allagash White, Shipyard Export and Peak Organic.
While the menu and the mission behind the eatery haven’t changed, it’s the spot’s address that sets it apart from its older siblings across Manhattan.
The East Village, UES and UWS Luke’s Lobster locales see big business on nights and weekends due to their residential locations, but the Financial District venue will aim to serve businessmen and women on their lunch breaks.
“We’re going to have a totally reverse crowd from what we normally have,” said Conniff. “So we’ve structured it a bit differently.”
The restaurant will have a small shack in the front – an extra kitchen, opening out to the street, which will strictly serve lobster rolls.
“If somebody wants to come by and grab a couple of lobster rolls quick, they can get in that express line, avoid the full line of people getting full meals and other options,” said Conniff. “So there’s no jam or people getting yelled at when they get back to work.”
The interior of the Financial District locale is modest and charming, much like the two young men behind the operation, who admitted they were far more prepared Friday than they have been for any of their previous restaurant openings.
Decked with lobstering nets, buoys and photographs of the Maine coastline, the small venue (it looks to seat about 20 patrons at once), is perhaps the closest thing you’ll find to a New England getaway here in New York City.
The extreme success and expansion of the brand isn’t what Holden expected to encounter when he first set out to bring authentic Maine lobster to the Big Apple. In fact, four restaurants and one food truck ago, he was planning to keep his job as an investment banker.
“I got the idea of doing some kind of side project with my father,” he said. “To bring some high-quality seafood rolls to New York.”
In true New York City fashion, Holden took to Craigslist to search for a business partner. In the pile of about 500 applicants was Conniff, who had been working various freelance and media jobs before he was vetted and selected by Holden and his father.
It wasn’t much longer before the “side project” quickly became not only a full-time job for the team, but took over most every aspect of their lives.
“I don’t think either of us have social lives,” said Holden. “It’s really seven days a week, and there’s never an ability to say ‘no’ at this point…you don’t shut your phone off.”
Not that they’re complaining.
“It just took off so much more than we expected it to, and we got way more attention than we thought we would, coming in and knowing nothing about restaurants,” Conniff said. “We never would’ve put ourselves here after a year and nine months.”
Not too shabby for two twenty-somethings with a dream.
“Luckily, this really panned out,” said Conniff.
That’s an understatement if we’ve ever heard one.
Julie Parise is the features editor for CBSNewYork.com.