CAPE ELIZABETH — Most tourists who come to Maine aren’t about to go home without eating lobster — and they’re not going to be deterred by high prices.

High prices? At a time when low prices have sparked an international dispute?

By the time that bright red lobster lands in front of a customer in a Maine restaurant, those low dock prices of $2 to $2.50 a pound are a distant murmur, rather than the issue that’s causing all the shouting by lobstermen in Canada, who fear that their livelihoods are threatened by cheap Maine lobster flowing to processing plants north of the border.

A case in point is the Lobster Shack at Two Lights, where diners can savor their seafood on picnic tables overlooking — when the fog lifts — crashing waves on, yes, the rocky coast of Maine. On Thursday, the lobster rolls and lobster dinner were going for market price on the big menu board posted where diners line up to place their orders.

A smaller board just inside the door offered the detail that the market price was $14.99 for a lobster roll and $18.99 for the dinner.

Cynthia Geary, a Portland native who lives in California, had no idea how much she had just paid for two lobster rolls — one for her and another for son Collin — and three sodas, until she dug out the receipt showing $37.

Geary confessed that she hadn’t paid attention to the cost, because the trip to the Lobster Shack is a regular feature of the family’s Maine vacations and also because someone was standing in front of the sign noting the prices when she went in to order.

“I thought it was kind of expensive,” she said. “I feel taken advantage of. It says market price, and I thought market price was $2.99.”

Nearby, military retiree Bill Thompson of Manchester also said he paid no attention to the price of his lobster roll — his friends from Florida were paying.

“That’s crazy,” he said of the price they shelled out. “But it was good,” he said.

Carol Hart, who picked up the tab with her husband, Terrell Hart, said vacationers know pretty much everything is going to cost a lot, so you don’t necessarily blink at a lobster roll for $14.99, even when a whole lobster can be had for $3 or $4 at a local lobster pound.

“When you’re at a place like this, and you’re on vacation, you just spend,” she said over the sound of a foghorn.

Katie Porch, who owns the Lobster Shack with her husband, Jeff, said she’s not getting her lobster right off the boat and has to go through a dealer, who adds a mark-up to the price. She also noted that her lobster rolls are filled with fresh meat, but she buys it cooked and picked by the dealers, which adds to the price.

Cooked lobster meat is going for about $24 a pound, she said, a price other restaurant owners in the area confirmed.

A few customers have pointed out that lobster prices are near record lows, Porch said. “I keep hearing that, too,” she said.

Porch wouldn’t say what she’s paying for lobsters, but noted that prices for most other seafood has shot up this year and some products — crabmeat, for instance — are hard to find for any price.

Porch said she cut the price for the lobster meal from about $25 a month ago, when she could no longer get more expensive hardshell lobsters.

Steve DiMillo, owner of DiMillo’s Floating Restaurant on the Portland waterfront, agreed.

His restaurant serves hardshells only for its in-the-shell lobster meals, and they generally run $5 a pound and up at lobster pounds. He said his restaurant also makes lobster rolls from meat that it buys from the dealers. Even though most of that meat comes from softshell lobsters and should be getting less expensive, it’s been stuck at about $24 a pound for months.

“The dealers’s making a really good markup,” DiMillo said.

At the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, they even out price gyrations by dealing directly with lobsterman Jim Merryman, said Glen Sanokklis, resident manager of the inn.

The inn pays Merryman more than the market rate — $3.50 to $4 a pound now — at times when lobster is plentiful, but he also makes sure they have lobster at a discount in winter, when the supply typically tightens and prices rise.

That allows the inn to offer trays of lobsters, along with other offerings, at the Sunday brunch, which costs customers $24.95, Sanokklis said. The lobsters are available at brunch all year, he said, and the meal usually sells out.

At the Lobster Shack, there was a clear difference between locals, who were put off by the price of lobster dishes, and the folks from away, who weren’t at all fazed.

Ruth Ann Vandepitte of South Portland has been treating her niece and nephew to lobster every day of their visit here from Allen, Texas. But she clearly favored the dishes she was making at home, pointing out that she could make lobster rolls for all three of them, with some left over, from a pound of lobster meat that she bought this week for $25 a pound. This weekend she plans to cook up a bunch of softshells before Rusty and Sharon Slicker head back south.

“We’ll just get a mess of lobster, and we’ll pay a lot less,” she said. Vandepitte plans to take advantage of the low prices while she can, noting “you can’t expect to be paying $3.50 forever.”

Randy Slicker said $14.99 for a lobster roll was way less than he would pay in Texas, if he could even find one.

Nearby, Philip Howell of Como, N.C., was about to dig into a lobster meal with his wife, Belinda. He seemed more concerned about how to crack the shell and get to the meat — it was his first whole lobster — than he was with the cost.

“It’s a treat for us,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve ever been to Maine, and everyone says you’ve got to eat lobster.”

 

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.