To the general public, at least, there’s a kind of romance about operating a food truck, fueled in part by movies like “Chef.” You’re following your dream. You’re your own boss. You’re in on a hot foodie trend. You’re free, or at least free-er than an office drudge. The job is creative, and your “office” can be in some pretty cool spots, say at a concert at Thompson’s Point in Portland or overlooking the city’s beautiful Eastern Prom.

Even if all these things are not actually true, still, the sense romance lingers. Part of what’s interesting about the rise of Cousins Maine Lobster, though, is that it plays against type. It’s not the story of a disaffected chef quitting a high-powered restaurant to rediscover his creative self. And it’s not the story of a free spirit with a passion for food who yearns to bring the world her mother’s kimchi. In fact, it’s the story of two driven young businessmen and the rapid expansion of a business.

Cousins Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac started in 2012 with a single food truck in Los Angeles, hawking lobster rolls on the other side of the country from the sandwich’s home and theirs. Today, just five years later, Tselikis, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth, and Lomac, who grew up in Scarborough, head up Cousins Maine Lobster, a business with more than 100 employees and 27 franchised food trucks that travel roads in states as far flung as New Jersey, Texas and North Carolina. The company has two restaurants, in L.A. and Taiwan (!), and according to its website, five more are “coming soon!” They sell a hit parade of Maine’s lobster classics from their website – items like lobster bisque, lobster pot pie, lobster mac and cheese, and, of course, the lobsters themselves. And if you don’t know them from their food trucks (they added one in Maine last year), you may know them from their appearances on ABC reality show “Shark Tank.”

The logical next step? A book. Neither a cookbook nor a memoir, “Cousins Maine Lobster: How One Food Truck Became a Multimillion-Dollar Business” is a how-to aimed squarely at aspiring entrepreneurs. In 12 chapters of accessible, encouraging prose, Tselikis and Lomac spell out the lessons they have learned as their business has grown and thrived, things such as “play the long game,” “surround yourself with greatness” and “not every opportunity is the right opportunity.” (Although I have never owned a business, if someone had told me that last one years ago, I could have saved myself some regrettable professional mistakes.)

Along the way, readers get a quick tour through Maine history, which the cousins relate, to some extent, to their own. (They rely on author and Portland Press Herald reporter Colin Woodard for much of that history.) Just as Maine had to discover itself through adversity – the Civil War, and the subsequent diminishment or loss of the granite, ice and lumber industries – Tselikis and Lomac write that “through the trials of those first few months, we discovered that our vision had been limited. We weren’t quite sure what we were yet … Our little truck was more than a food truck because we wanted it to be more than that. And that’s our lesson from this period. Know who you are. And know that who you are is a result of what you want to be.”

Chapter 3, “Questions and Answers,” suggests that people with an itch to launch a startup learn by asking “a million” questions, including, in the case of their business’s prime product – lobster rolls – of their own moms.


The next part of the food truck business is, of course, food. We’ll get to how we obtained our lobster supply in a moment. Before we could even think about that, however, we needed to know that we could make our signature dish, the lobster roll. We should add that we weren’t that concerned about getting it wrong. Our goal wasn’t anything fancy; in fact, we just wanted to serve the lobster rolls we ate as kids. As we mentioned previously, the lobster roll holds the same place in the lobster bake as does the turkey sandwich after Thanksgiving. It’s what you make out of leftovers – and in some cases, it’s better than the original meal.

Well, why the lobster roll and not the whole lobster? Fair question, but with a good answer. First, buying whole Maine lobster would be prohibitively expensive. The biggest problem with lobsters is that you need to ship them while they’re still alive, then you need to keep them alive until you drop them in the boiling pot of water right before serving. The whole process, from the shipping to the storing to the serving, just doesn’t work with a food truck. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it was beyond our means at the time. Moreover, the numbers just didn’t work for us then. For example, a two-pound lobster only yields about half a pound of meat; a one-and-a-quarter pound lobster yields a quarter pound of meat. But you don’t pay for the meat; you pay for the weight of the live lobster, or gross weight, as it’s called. As much as we would have loved to re-create the Maine lobster bake, it wasn’t feasible.

So, that left us buying fresh lobster meat wholesale. The choice of the lobster roll as the signature dish – and an award-winning dish, it would turn out – was relatively simple: a lobster roll is quick and easy to make, requiring few extra ingredients – a bun, butter, and lemon. We could churn this delicious little sandwich out by the dozens, and not need an experienced chef on the truck either. Easy, simple, yet we still had no real experience making them.

But our mothers did.

In what would turn out to be our preferred R&D method, we decided to go home to the Tselikis and Lomac families and turn Jim’s kitchen into a lab. With pounds of lobster meat, buns, and butter at our disposal, we learned the art of the lobster roll from the best, Julie Tselikis and Jeannie Lomac. In fact, the whole family got in on the R&D. The beauty of the lobster roll is that less is more; the lobster meat is the star and you need to let it do its thing. So, our job was to make sure we used just the right amount of butter and the right bun. Everything else should fall into place.

Now, of course there is a little bit more to it than that. But we can’t give away all the secrets to our award-winning lobster roll, now can we? The point is that it depends on the quality of our lobster – and we knew one thing above everything else. Our lobster, its quality, would be the best in the business.

Excerpted from “Cousins Maine Lobster: How One Food Truck Became a Multi-Million Dollar Business” by Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac. Copyright © 2018 by the authors and reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

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