Luke’s Lobster works with local fishermen to supply their restaurants all around the world with traceable sustainable seafood. Co-Founder Ben Conniff shares with us all about how Luke’s Lobster came to be, the investments they are making in coastal communities and the environment, and of course shares some insights into their B Corp certification.
Below are links to all the various business the Ben Conniff named over the course of our interview. And, if you want to reach out to us, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And of course, you all know I love a good video. Below is a video that tells the story of Luke’s Lobster, and then a couple videos from Luke about how to prepare and enjoy lobster.
Ben Conniff [0:03]
The people who live on the coasts need to make their living, they need to be successful in order to get them behind, you know, preserving the environment on the coast as well. There are many, many wind winds for both people in those communities, the fishermen in the environment. And our goal has been to identify those win wins, and to work with the community to fund them and to make them happen.
Benn Marine [0:36]
From dirigo collective, this is Responsibly Different sharing stories of Certified B Corporations and our journey of joining them in leveraging business as a force for good.
I’m Ben Marine, and in this final episode of season one, we reached out to a global brand that is having a local impact right here in our home state of Maine, Luke’s lobster, Luke’s lobster, it works with local fishermen to supply their restaurants all around the world with traceable sustainable seafood, with over 30 locations around the globe, including Portland, Maine, Boston, New York, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, Tokyo and more. Luke’s Lobster is dedicated to quality seafood that protects our oceans and the way of life of those in our coastal communities. On September 23, I hopped on the phone with Co Founder and Chief Marketing officer Ben Conniff and he answered all my questions about Luke’s lobster, B Corp Certification, and protecting Maine’s coast.
Ben Conniff [1:46]
So my name is Ben Conniff. I am a Co Founder and the Chief Innovation Officer at Luke’s lobster. We are an 11 year old company now we’re actually coming up on our anniversary our first restaurant opened October 1 stof 2009. And we are an authentic lobster shack and now seafood production company and seafood buying and distribution company. We started as a restaurant, but we’re now vertically integrated back to purchasing directly from fishermen and handling seafood throughout the process from the dock to your plate. We we really exist because my partner Luke is a third generation fisherman from Maine. And after college, he had a brief stint in finance living in New York, and just couldn’t find a lobster roll that properly reminded him of home or one that was affordably priced. His father was lobterman and then lobster dealer, and then processor was the first lobster processor in the state of Maine. And he was able to connect us to the fishermen, they got us the best lobster down in New York City, which is where our first restaurant was. So Luke and I met on Craigslist when he was looking for a partner so we could keep his day job for the first few months. That was pretty wild. We got the restaurant open in 30 days after signing the lease and just cranked from there on. We started expanding, opening more restaurants. And then in 2013, we decided to build our own lobster production facility in Saco. And to start really taking our entire supply chain into our own hands. That was a huge, huge move for us to get closer to the fishermen and be more in control of our seafood. And then in 2018 in January, we became a Certified B Corp, which was kind of the next big milestone for us.
Benn Marine [3:56]
It’s amazing. And I can’t believe you all met via Craigslist. That’s incredible what how I’m just so curious, how did that happen?
Ben Conniff [4:02]
I had been working in media, various internships, and kind of entry level editorial assistant jobs but hadn’t found a landing place. I tried freelancing. And I just found that I always wanted to close my computer and cook. So I started looking for restaurant jobs on Craigslist. And I couldn’t even get an interview for like a counter job because I didn’t have the experience that that people were looking for in the New York City restaurant scene. Then I stumbled across a guy looking to start a lobster shack and I had spent a fair amount of time visiting Maine as a kid and particularly hanging out around the Five Islands Lobster Co Op, and I just loved everything about Maine and about lobster I shot him an email on a kind of Hail Mary and he wanted to meet up and we got talking and we really clicked and literally, within a couple of days, I was signed on to get this restaurant open.
Benn Marine [5:06]
That is so cool. That is so cool. I know a huge part of your business and the values you founded on are investing in coastal communities. And so for folks that are less aware about issues facing coastal communities, can you explain a little bit for us some of the challenges those communities face, and how Luke’s lobster is different from other lobster harvesting companies?
Ben Conniff [5:25]
Yeah, if you look at historically the way fishermen and dealer and consumer relationships work, the fishermen come back to to a dock, they’re told what they’re going to get paid for their for their product, and then it disappears off into the ether. And they have no connection to where it goes, how many people touch it along the way, or what it ultimately gets sold for. So usually, you know, the vast majority of the margin in that eventual transaction with a consumer doesn’t go back to the fisherman, it goes to all of the hands that are kind of touching that seafood along the way, it’s a worse experience for the fishermen because they don’t take home as much. And it’s a worse experience for the end consumer. Because the product isn’t as good, because of all those hands that touched it. And they have no idea where it came from, what its history was, or or that it was handled properly in the process. So our goal is to cut out as many middlemen as possible, and to try to be that one connective tissue between the fisherman and the end consumer to deal transparently with the fishermen. So they know when they go out to fish, what they’re going to be paid, that they’re going to be paid promptly, there’s not going to be anybody who just doesn’t show up with the check when it’s due, which is a problem that’s rampant in the seafood industry. And then they know that when we put in a lobster roll and put it on a plate in front of one of our guests, that we’re going to talk about the fishermen that caught it, and you’re in Portland or out in Cranberry Island or in Tenants harbor or Port Clyde, and that that guest is going to have an appreciation for all the hard work that went into bringing that lobster to their plate. And that that really makes a difference both financially to a fisherman’s bottom line. And I think, psychologically, to feel part of a broader community of people supplying the food and people consuming food. And that’s really what we’re trying to achieve.
Benn Marine [7:51]
And how do you find or select the fishermen that you partner with?
Ben Conniff [7:55]
That’s a great question. We have built very close relationships with groups of fishermen as specific docks over time. Big way that that started was Luke’s father Jeff’s reputation in the industry. And the folks that he has worked with in the past, and really created a reputation for the Holden family in that family name of honest and transparent dealing over decades. So that opened a lot of doors and a lot of conversations for us with fishermen who you know, wanted a buyer that they could trust, who is not going to just not need to take their last year on any given day, or just not be able to get there with the check on any given day. Because that’s, that’s not the way that that family has done business over long periods of time. So that has been really helpful. And then I think just building on the reputation that we built, and you know, fishermen love to talk to other fishermen. And, you know, we we work with with guys who are really enthusiastic about being a part of the system that we’re trying to create. We work with a lot of Co Ops, we’re big believers in the cooperatively owned lobster dock model. So whether it’s Tenants Harbor, Cranberry Island, Friendship, Port Clyde, we really enjoy buying from docks where all the fishermen have skin in the game and have a stake in the outcomes for that dock’s business. So that has kind of helped create a little network of Co Ops that we buy from up and down the coast.
Benn Marine [9:39]
That is really cool. And you also have a really cool fund called the keeper fund. How did how did that come? What exactly is that and how did it come to be?
Ben Conniff [9:47]
The keeper fund is really a distillation for us of a lot of the philanthropic work that we had been doing over the years. So we’re Very interested in both conserving our coastal environment up here in Maine and around the country and around the world. But we also understand that the people who live on the coasts need to make their living and they need to be successful in order to get them behind, you know, preserving the environment on the coast as well. So there are many, many win wins for both the people in those communities, the fishermen, and the environment. And our goal has been to identify those win wins, and to work with the community to find them and to make them happen. So a couple of years ago, we decided that rather than just kind of writing a check, or volunteering time, when it made sense for one individual instance or another, we would create a kind of sub entity with its own mission and its own name that helped us communicate this mission. So the keeper fund was what we came up with, it’s a reference to what you call a lobster, that’s the perfect size. It’s not undersized, it’s not oversized, which are both sustainability regulations in the industry. So it’s a bit of a nod to the sustainable practices that fishermen have voluntarily adopted over time, and are now enshrined in law. And it’s also kind of a reference to the concept of a keeper of wanting to keep our environment clean and beautiful and healthy and want to keep our coastal communities healthy as well.
Benn Marine [11:39]
Awesome. And I think, and you’re also involved in some really cool projects that, as you mentioned, aim to protect the health of coastal waterways cleaning shorelines getting over, I mean, you guys have had over 100, volunteers involved, and so much more. Those are all things that when I hear that I think of more nonprofits and less businesses that do that. And so I just think it’s incredible that you’re doing that as a business. How do you balance those projects while running the business? Like how does that work? Yeah,
Ben Conniff [12:07]
We look at our we look at our core values in this business is taste and transparency and purpose. And the first two really predominantly have to do with how we do business business, your taste is about making sure that we’re always serving the best lobster in the world, and other seafood now that we need to diversify. Transparency is about those transparent dealings with fishermen, and all of our suppliers and stakeholders, and then being transparent with our guests. Purpose really encompasses the importance of thinking beyond business and achieving a broader good that that goes outside the boundaries of just what your day to day is at work. And I think that’s always been part of the soul of the company and part of the soul of our broader stakeholder community. And guess what, it’s not the only thing but it’s one of the things that makes everybody who works at Leeds, passionate about getting up in the morning, and coming here, not just that their day to day creates a benefit. But that by supporting and helping to grow this company, they’re providing opportunity for that company to go out there and generate generate these these further external net positives. So if that’s doing ocean cleanups and Island cleanups, and yes, we do that in our, in our urban centers, where we have like, you know, active young faces of liberal environmentalists, but we also go out to create an island and do it with fishermen. Because they are even more concerned with the cleanliness of their ocean with they depend on every day, as you know, you know, young big city, liberal environmentalists and New York, Philly or DC. So, you know, that’s an activity that is really great, because it again reinforces that sense of there being a broader community that touches the ocean and touches the Oceans Bounty, no matter what your what your background is, or where you where you sit in the world. But then there’s a more scientific element to it too. So working with the island Institute, and Bigelow labs and Atlantic sea farms to help scientifically understand the positive effects that kelp farming has on the surrounding area in terms of reducing ocean acidification. Like we we like to get in the weeds on science of that as well, because we’re all who are looking for is, you know, how can we find ultimate solutions that are going to help fishermen make more money because now they’re farming kelp at the same time as their lobstering and they’re going to make their own product more valuable. Because that last year is going to be healthier, because the kelp is there in the water column. And they’re going to make the ocean cleaner, the ecosystem healthier, and overall, you know, benefit the environment in a very real way. That’s sort of that’s sort of the dream. And, you know, it’s about understanding the science, so and then being able to turn around and communicate what that means for benefiting all the stakeholders.
Benn Marine [15:25]
That’s so cool. And I’m actually really glad you brought up calc, because there was this really interesting stat on your site that I’m going to totally own I don’t fully understand what it means I’m hoping you can help me wrap my brain around it. You’ve measured carbon, I don’t even know how to say this, right? You’ve measured carbon sequestration power of 13,000 feet of kelp. What is what exactly does that mean? And and why should people want to know about it?
Ben Conniff [15:50]
So carbon sequestration means you are pulling carbon, in this case out of the ocean. But it’s also a document also can be used to be talked about, you know, planting trees, the carbon offset because the tree is taking carbon in. And that’s overall helping, you know, reduce the impact of carbon on climate. So in this instance, the kelp is pulling carbon out of the water, the excess carbon in our atmosphere is also creating an excess of carbon in the ocean. And what that does is it makes the ocean more acidic, that ocean acidification in turn can have a lot of negative effects on the ecosystem, including on the strength of shells for bivalves specifically. And then some some lesser understood negative effects potentially on lobsters and their reproductive habits as well. All of the negative aspects of ocean acidification are not fully known, but we know there’s a lot of them, and it is a big deal. So by planting kelp, you’re able to actually fix some of that carbon, pull it out of the ocean, put it into the kelp. So what we were able to do is work with our institute and these other partners to help fund the scientific measurement devices that study the effects on ocean acidification for that amount of kelp. And also looked at if you farmed mussels right next to that kelp. What were they? What were the changes on the shell strength of muscles that were found next to kelp versus mussels that were found elsewhere?
Benn Marine [17:35]
Oh, wow, that is so cool. And I think it’s such an important point, because so often we hear about climate change, or at least it seems like the headlines in the news are always about air. But you don’t hear it so much about how it impacts the ocean per se. And so I think that’s a really need especially here in Maine. It’s such an important point. You also started the Jonah crab fishery improvement project. Is that part of the Keeper Fund or separate thing and and you share with us like what maybe makes that different?
Ben Conniff [18:03]
Yeah, that was separate. You know, it was a project that my my partner, Luke’s brother, or assigned partner Brian, who is also Luke’s brother, worked on with our VP of seafood operations here, Ben, different Ben. But it was done in partnership with, with Dell Hayes and with a few other really helpful organizations. And the premise of it was really Jonah crab, but delicious crab that we serve in our crab rolls every day. It’s always been kind of a an incident or catch in the last year trap. People didn’t used to go fish for Jonah crab, it’s sort of like it would show up in your lobster trap, and you would eat it, throw it back. Or if you thought you could sell it, you would keep it you bring it home and maybe sell it. But there was never a big market for Jonah crab, it was very much an underutilized species. So there wasn’t really a lot of concern with ever overfishing it because it wasn’t just wasn’t that popular. Then in the last decade, Jonah crab has started to be recognized for how amazing delicious, sweet tender, I can go on and on. And it became a, you know, a more popular species. And suddenly, people started to wonder, you know, there are guys going out now that are going just specifically to fish for Jonah crab. Is it possible that we could overfish this species and that became an immediate concern for us. So we worked with all these partners and with a large group of fishermen to take some of the amazing sustainability concepts that have worked in the last year industry, massive size, minimum size thrown back egg bearing females, and create rules for the counter crab fishery as well. That everyone already agreed to, and that would then be enforced. And by doing that, we’re able to then have a much greater level of confidence that we wouldn’t be out there. overfishing, join a crab and that population would thrive in the same way that the lobster population has in the last several decades.
Benn Marine [20:19]
That’s great. I love that it’s preemptive. To that it’s not waiting for there to be a problem to fix it. But actually thinking ahead and seeing that curve. That’s, that’s really, really great.
Ben Conniff [20:29]
Well, we serve you serve shrimp, we used to serve Maine shrimp. And the Maine shrimp fishery was, you know, completely over fish. And it’s been shut down since 2013. So we lost something that’s a delicacy here. And now we have to buy it from a sustainable fishery in Quebec. So we saw that we saw it with with Sierra chain, you know, a few decades ago, mainly associations is past and didn’t know what to do with them. And then they realize there was this great Japanese market for sea urchin, and we fish the hell out of them and nothing gone. Fishing haven’t recovered. So we’ve seen many times in the past year, people think this isn’t a big deal. And then they don’t really realize until it’s too late.
Benn Marine [21:17]
Wow, that’s huge. That’s, that is really, really huge. pivoting a little bit to B Corp land. I’m curious, when did you first start hearing about B Corps.
Ben Conniff [21:27]
I think we first started hearing about it thinking about it. Whenever the big New Yorker profile about B Corp came out, so maybe 2014 would be a guess, I don’t remember exactly. But it was definitely years before we actually did it. And my sister who was running our compliance at the time was really keen on doing it. And our marketing team was really keen on doing it. But it took a few years for us to understand what the process looked like, and why it was worth doing. And then once we decided to do it, it took me the better part of a year to actually make it happen. So that’s how we ended up actually getting certified at the start of 2018.
Benn Marine [22:17]
What do you think was the most challenging part? Once you started to actually dive into the B impact assessment? Like, did you were you already were doing so much great community work and environmental work? Was it easy to just check those boxes? Or were there pieces were like, okay, we really got to revamp some of what we do. It was
Ben Conniff [22:38]
It was really easy to check the boxes. And then when they came back and said, Okay, now show me all the paperwork that proves all those boxes that you checked. That was the hard part. Because the thing about B Corps is you know, the fact that you happen to do something right now isn’t enough, there has to be a written policy behind it, this signed by people in positions of authority there, you know, there has to be tracking mechanisms and measurement mechanisms to ensure that it’s working. So all these things that were either baked into our philosophy, or just things that we did kind of as a, you know, as a matter, of course, that didn’t actually count for much until we went back over retrace our steps and actually figured out how to put it all on paper, prove it, measure it. And that’s how we wound up, you know, probably going from 120 points when we first checked the boxes to 80.1 points, which is, you know, the minimum is at on our eventual assessment, because it’s a, you know, it’s a battle for for a small company that has done things very informally over, you know, at that point than the eight or nine years we’ve existed to suddenly formalize everything in like a more rigid, written way. We didn’t have those kind of corporate tendencies. So that was, that was the biggest challenge for sure.
Benn Marine [24:19]
Were there parts of the assessment that you guys like? Oh, yes, I’m so glad that they asked these questions, because now we’re thinking about this thing we never would have even thought about or any other kind of positives that came out of working through the assessment.
Ben Conniff [24:31]
There. Definitely. Were, I would say, the biggest positives have come after certification as we’ve thought about how to increase our score above 80.1. So there’s been a lot of great work that we’ve been able to do around employee engagement surveys, and reporting out on the results and making concrete changes based on the results. Similarly, stakeholder survey outside of the organization, so how can we better collect and organize data from all of our fishermen for, you know, their opinions on, on how well we’ve acted as a buyer for them and what more they would like to see. And doing that has really helped us with, you know, retention and engagement with our employees and also with our fishermen, because we might have made as an example, for employees, we might have made a decision about what new benefits to offer based on what we assumed was important to our employees. But then we did an engagement survey. And part of that we asked, how would you rank the importance of your current benefits and these potential new benefits? And the results were not what we expected? And so that really guided our ability to make decisions. And then to back when we announced them, um, you know, specific survey results?
Benn Marine [26:00]
Um, do you have any advice maybe for folks that are in a similar spot where they’re like, Oh, yeah, actually, surveys would really help us. I also asked partly because, as we’re working through our own assessment, that’s something that’s come up for us, we’re like, oh, we really want to implement surveys with clients and with staff. How, how did you? I mean, I imagine be especially hard for your business having to work with like fishermen that are, you know, it’s I don’t think it’d be as easy as maybe putting together a Google form, what advice would you have for folks trying to start that survey process,
Ben Conniff [26:31]
I think, my first piece of advice would be, don’t wait for it to be perfect. So you know, if you have via Google forms, or Google surveys, and you have five questions that you’re really interested in for people’s anonymous responses to just do it, you’ll learn most from your successes and failures when you start trying in a, you know, in a in a small scale. So So bite off what you can bite off initially, and then go from there. In we’re lucky we have, and where’s HRS stands for human resource information system, but like a system that keeps all your employee paperwork, we run payroll through it, we do documentation through it. And that also had a survey system. So it’s easy for our HR team to push a survey out to all of our employees and get aggregated data back in in a way that’s easy to read. So if you’re a company that has an HR is then then check and see if they have a survey module. But if you don’t use the Google product is free, and it’s pretty darn easy. So give it a shot. And you might learn things pretty quickly.
Benn Marine [27:54]
I’m curious, do you have HR is that you’d recommend if folks are maybe looking for one? Well,
Ben Conniff [28:03]
I would so we currently use pay Comm. And we had burned through a couple before that and pay comm has stuck for a few years. So I’m definitely not a content expert there. But if it wasn’t working well, I I’d be hearing about it. So I think our team is pretty happy with paycom. You know, those are really not one size fits all systems. And every organization thinks about things a little differently. So so you know, it might not work for everybody, but it’s been working for us pretty well. Sweet.
Benn Marine [28:41]
I’m curious, have you had much collaboration with other B Corps? And if so, who and what did that look like?
Ben Conniff [28:46]
Yeah, absolutely. So collaboration without a B Corps, I think is probably one of my top three reasons to be a B Corp. We actually certified because I sat down with a guy from United By Blue in 2017. Their an outdoorsy apparel company that cleans up pound of trash from the oceans for every product that they sell. So they’re super mission aligned with Luke’s and a lot of the trash cleanups, we’ve done, we’ve done together with them. We’ve also done partnerships. We had a special salad we called the two flannel salad. We got a bunch of flannels for the team from United By Blue and then this is our winter warmer salad. And for every one of those so we committed to cleaning up a pound of trash and we did this close together. It was a lot of fun. But they’re a great company. They’re based in Philly. They created this concept called Blue Friday that my wife and I have done for the last five years probably where you instead of going shopping on Black Friday, you go out and you clean trash from your local river or lake or ocean. I proposed to my wife after cleaning trash one of those days. So they’re a great company, really recommend checking them out. My wife now subsequently works for Allagash, we do a ton of partnerships with Allagash. In fact, they’ve actually stepped up and contributed alongside Luke’s to together donate $1 to the keeper fund for every allagash white that we sell at a booth faster. And so they were there like they were there for a lot of us cleanups as well. And they helped us to find some of the some of the research projects that we’ve done. We work closely with Cabot, very frequently, we use their cheddar cheese and our lobster grilled cheese, we use their butter in all of our northeast locations for lobster rolls, they provide the cheese for the last year mac and cheese that we sell in our restaurants and now are just launching in Whole Foods this week. They’re a great partner, we, we actually work with sir Kensington’s, a lot, the condiment company, who we serve their catch up with our French fries, we use some of their meals on some of our special rules. And we’ve actually done a lot of fun marketing together, they have a magazine called sandwich, and they made their second issue sandwich, all about cholesterol, they put links down on the cover, which is a lot of fun. So, you know, just just so many, it’s the Corp is such a door opener for, you know, friends with the Patagonian provisions, guys through B Corp, because, you know, we sold their beer and some of their some of their 10 muscles out in San Francisco, you know, if you let me go on forever, I’ll come up with a bunch more we buy wind energy through inspire, which is a B Corp. We’re working on solar energy up here with revision. It’s just like, there’s so many great companies out there, and I just want to work with all of them. It’s so awesome.
Benn Marine [32:02]
That’s, that is so awesome. I’m curious, how do you find those partnerships? Like do folks come and reach out to you? Or do you actually go out and find them? Or is it more organic, like just kind of bump into each other,
Ben Conniff [32:13]
it’s all the above, I feel like especially now, so we launched a direct to consumer website recently. And so we’re shipping lobster and other main seafood direct to consumers all over the US now. So it’s definitely changed our marketing strategy. And I find myself just, you know, virtually knocking on doors of B corpse pretty frequently to ask if they want to, you know, do some marketing content together and do a giveaway. And you know, I’ll just hit hit up there contact form, or I’ll try to find somebody on LinkedIn who works there. Like, we’re talking to haptic lab, which is a B chord, quote company right now. And a friend of mine and Liz’s works there. So we’re going to do a giveaway for these awesome quilts and some lost girls. And same thing, like our contact form will frequently get incoming from from other B corpse, okay, I have a great product that would work well on your website, or, you know, I offer a service that I think can be really helpful for you on a software perspective, or it’s, it’s really just the corpus like a code word, where you might delete a pitch otherwise, and you see where a B Corp and you make sure you read it and you respond.
Benn Marine [33:28]
That’s so cool. That’s really, really cool. I’m curious what have been some of your favorite moments in this journey of launching and running Luke’s lobster.
Ben Conniff [33:39]
Some of my favorite moments, I mean, opening day 2009 was a favorite. We had a team of maybe eight people and it’s a tiny restaurants, we can only fit probably four at a time. Loose dad was there, just making lobster rolls and we had 500 people come through that day and the wine out the door and none of us none of us had any idea what we were doing so. So that was fun Latina 24 year old having the kind of energy I had back then just just making lobster rolls and seeing smiling people never forget that day. But I also think that, you know, opening the seafood company here in Maine the first time 2013 we actually the first thing we did was shrimp that was the last ever main trim season and we didn’t really have any employees. So it was just a bunch of us up here cooking and peeling Trump ourselves and figuring out you know, we worked with a great scientist named Jason Bolton from the University of Maine who helped us understand our our food safety and hazard practices and get our paperwork together. And you know, it’s really something that we we built by hand from scratch, and a lot of the folks who were there that first day are still at our seafood company right now and moved up into leadership positions, but by A lot of pride. And you know, now just to see both of those situations being really thrown together with a lot of heart and, and like less than half as much knowledge and to see how, you know, professionally and smartly and well run they are in how they’re able to really create, you know, the nearest thing to a perfect product. I think what, what I love most about his business, like I never saw myself as a big business person and growth for the sake of growth doesn’t appeal to me, like the slightest little bit. But what I’ve learned is that growing as a business, has deepened our commitment to our values and our purpose and really helped us achieve them much, much better. And that has converted me at least in our own instance, to a person who, who does enjoy growing a business. Because as long as you’re reinvesting more and more into, into the reasons that you started the business in the first place, it can been incredibly rewarding,
Benn Marine [36:09]
which I think really speaks to kind of the overarching message of B Corp, right? It’s just it’s all about doing using business as a tool for good and not necessarily grow, grow, grow. Yeah. So that’s Yeah, that’s really, really cool. Oh, what advice would you give to businesses that are thinking about becoming a B Corp, or maybe just ankle deep in the B impact assessment?
Ben Conniff [36:33]
My first advice to that question is always start putting stuff on paper, anytime you’re doing something good, don’t, you know, don’t just do it, remember to make it a policy that’s long lasting, and can’t disappear overnight. So, you know, in the, in the wake of, you know, being much more attuned to the Black Lives Matter movement this summer than we regrettably have in the past, you know, I’ve, I’ve started reaching out to a lot of black owned businesses to see how we can purchase and sell their products and how we can better support them. So what you need to do if you want to be a B Corp, is not just you that you need to write a sourcing policy that says, you know, we, whenever possible, will look to source products, ingredients, from businesses owned by, you know, women, minorities, people of color, and disadvantaged populations. And you can try that into how you do business. So when people say like, black lives don’t just matter for two weeks after George Floyd dies, they matter all the time. And so rather than just doing a token, like buying something from a backpack or a business in June, you change your sourcing policy for the long haul to try to do that continuously. And that’s, that’s the big the core thing, like think about how you translate your best instincts in the moment to long term policies on paper,
Benn Marine [38:08]
do you have any favorite black owned businesses that you’ve worked with come just kind of coming out of that reason more recently.
Ben Conniff [38:15]
So what what we’re working on now is conversations with some of the Somalian cooperative farms here in Maine. So our goal is to, to begin sourcing ingredients for the restaurant down here in Portland, from those farms, obviously, not all of our ingredients, and you know, maybe not in every season, but when we can to, to work with them to just to start sourcing and supporting those farms. I think that’s super important. From my perspective of our business here in Maine, we are launching, I believe, very serious beers from Harlow brewery down in New York into our New York locations, you know, so that we’re looking at a local business who’s who’s been there and in trying to succeed and helping them get exposure to to our gas base, and also just benefiting ourselves from having a delicious new beer on our beer list. So, you know, it’s, it’s definitely a piece by piece approach. And it’s been a little more difficult based on the fact that most of our restaurants have been closed due to COVID. So like, there’s this amazing looking pie maker called justice of the pies in Chicago, and all I want to do is buy her pies and sell them out of Luke’s lobster Chicago, looks after Chicago is closed. It’s in like downtown in the loop and every office there is abandoned. So there’s a lot of plans that are in the works, but we haven’t been able to pull it pull the trigger on because we’re not actually To open.
Benn Marine [40:01]
Yeah, how has I mean, obviously COVID has had a huge impact, especially on, you know, businesses dealing in food and beverage, right? How have you guys been able to survive this bananas time,
Ben Conniff [40:15]
we’re very fortunate that we started our production company in 2013. And as part of that, we built a grocery business beyond just the restaurant business. So I think I could say that if, if we weren’t selling lobster tails, and lobster, meat and other products to Whole Foods, and mom’s organic market, and fresh time in the Midwest and other supermarkets, I don’t, I don’t know how we would still be here. Having that facility and having that business up. And running is also what allowed us to launch the direct to consumer website. So it’s been huge for us to kind of make up some of the last business from the restaurants through our website. And it’s also allowed us to keep buying from fishermen at closer to the rate that we had planned to previously. And to diversify, where we can buy from our fishermen. So, you know, folks that go out and in cash last year for us are also fishing for bluefin tuna right now, they were dragging for scallops in the late winter, early spring, they were catching halibut in May, June, there’s just a wealth of other things that they do to diversify their income. And we hadn’t been able to really support them all that much on those because we didn’t serve those in our restaurants. Now, with our website, we are a marketplace to the entire country, for all sorts of wonderful main seafood products. So we’ve diversified with our own fishermen, we’ve reached out to some other amazing businesses here that also needed access to a different market, since the restaurants and casinos and cruise lines of the world disappeared. So we’ve sold oysters on our site from Georgetown oyster Co Op, and we’re actually we’re out there talking to more and more other brands and companies along the coast that need need a better way to move product that they’re having trouble selling during COVID. So all these things have kept us going financially. And they’ve really buoyed us from a morale perspective, a purpose perspective and, and help keep our team going and passionate. And, you know, we had to, we had to furlough a huge number of our restaurant teammates, specifically in some of our office teammates, and many of those people are still furloughed, because we still have half of our locations closed, and ones that are open have a tiny fraction of the crew. So you know, everything that we can do to get this business back closer to capacity, and get people back to work and keep people engaged and, and working towards our mission. You know, we’re gonna do, that’s great.
Benn Marine [43:18]
And I’m curious for folks that are listening, and they’re like, Oh, my gosh, this sounds amazing. And you stand for everything that I believe in, and all the things and I just want to buy all the seafood from you. Where can they where do they go? Or where can they do that? Can they are there some restaurants that are open where they can do curbside pickup or is it all do they just go to the grocery store? Or do they order online or what’s the best way for people to get get the goods there,
Ben Conniff [43:41]
There are a lot of ways to get the goods. Some of our restaurants are open one right here in Portland is the only one that actually never closed. It transferred to takeout delivery only in March. And then come June open for outdoor only dining. Now it’s got a little bit of indoor dining as well. And then you know, we have one going to have our Boston locations back open. About half a dozen open New York. A couple of down in DC, one Philly out in San Francisco, we’re back up and down in Miami, we’re back open. So there is an opportunity there. You know, most of them are takeout delivery only, and probably will be through the winter time. But but they’re there, they’re making lobster rolls for you. And then really the easiest way for most people is to go to lukeslobster.com. And get into our online shop. And from there you can order lobster you can order tuna you can order scallops you can order how that lobster mac and cheese, lobster bisque kind of like really the broadest selection and that will continue to grow. And you can shift that anywhere in the 48 states. Or if you’re here in Portland, you can just pick it up at Portland pier for free. So get on there, you know order two pounds of tuna steaks for yourself to pick up at the pier, or 4 lobster roll kit to send to your aunt in Nevada used to live on the east coast and really misses it and hasn’t been able to get good seafood in forever in a day. So, yeah, it lukeslobster.com and you can find information about all the other restaurants and whatnot too. You can also you can go down to Whole Foods anywhere in the country almost and you’ll find in the frozen seafood section we’ll find our last few meat lobster tails. And within the next couple of weeks, lobster bisque, lobster mac and cheese, and Jonah crab claws.
Benn Marine [45:58]
Thanks so much for tuning in. As always, I have links to all the various businesses been named in this episode in our show notes, which you can find at responsibly different.com including where you can go to order Luke’s lobster directly. And while this concludes Season One of responsibly different fear not there will be many more seasons to come. And we will continue to document our journey towards our own B Corp certification at the responsibly different website, which will also include any resources we have come upon, that we have found helpful. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe and leave a review. It helps more folks like yourself find this content. And if you have questions or suggestions for us, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line at content at dirigo collective.com. wrongness together. Till next time, be responsibly different. This is a production of dirigo collective music composed by our own Kevin Oates. You can follow us on social media at deer go collective or visit our corner of the internet at deer go collective.com