Lincolnville landmark, The Lobster Pound, closes
LINCOLNVILLE — After nearly 60 years in the family business, with the past 44 years as owners of The Lobster Pound in Lincolnville Beach, Patty and Richard "Dick" McLaughlin have closed the restaurant's doors.
For decades, The Lobster Pound prospered and grew under the McLaughlins' ownership. It is where Dick and Patty met, built a family business and saw generation after generation work. It is a place where countless numbers of young people from the area worked summers. At The Lobster Pound, the McLaughlins grew and maintained a tradition that started even before they owned the restaurant, that local customers and people from all over the country stopped there to eat and then they, and their children after them, returned year after year.
Following the stock market crash of 2008 and the ensuing economic downturn, it became increasingly difficult to manage overhead costs during the restaurant's typical six-month season, according to Dick. They tried everything they could think of to keep the business going, he said. The restaurant was on the real estate market for a year with the Daigle Group, but had only one offer, Dick said. In November, the couple made the decision to follow the advice of financial consultants and filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
In closing the doors, Patty's first thoughts were to thank all of The Lobster Pound's “wonderful customers and the return customers, going way, way back. I really want the customers to understand that we really liked seeing them year after year.”
The McLaughlins expressed appreciation for the large groups who ate at the restaurant once or twice a year, for many years running, including Lincolnville Old Timers, Camden Area Senior Citizens, a school in Tuftonboro, N.H., that hosted a fifth-grade trip to Boothbay Harbor and Bar Harbor and always stopped at the Lobster Pound, and "the girls from Alford Lake Camp."
The restaurant had many long-time employees, and the McLaughlins especially relied on Stuart Young, “who was always there if you need something." Other key employees included Diana Bryant, Angela Ryder, sons Rick and Peter, who helped run the business, and grandson Joe, who was a bartender at the attached brew pub.
“Through the years, we had wonderful employees,“ Patty said. “Some have gone on to be nurses, doctors and career people.”
The couple reminisced about how times have changed, and the restaurant's customer base did as well. The Lobster Pound usually opened in May. Mother's Day and Memorial Day were the biggest days for the restaurant in May, during a time when the area had about five restaurants that were popular for special occasions. The busiest day of the year would typically be during Rockland's annual Lobster Festival, Dick said.
Restaurants' prices were different then, too.
“The first year we were in business, a shore dinner was $3.95, a steak was $4.25 and a turkey dinner was $1.10,” he said. Dick remembers paying $4.25 for a bushel of clams. This season, he said he paid as much as $195 for a bushel.
Before they owned the business, a customer brought the McLaughlins a photograph of a sign at the restaurant, advertising lobster for $1. The customer showed the photograph to the McLaughlins, hoping they could confirm that it was taken at The Lobster Pound. The McLaughlins were able to identify a sliver of the Whales Tooth Pub in the background.
Dick believes the first owner of The Lobster Pound in the late 1920s was Lawrence Carver, followed by Ed Cobb, then his aunt Inga's husband Richard Chase. The McLaughlins have a photo of Carver at the first version of The Lobster Pound, when it was little more than a lean-to on Lincolnville Beach. Patty once had the chance to meet Carver in a nursing home. He actually was a carver, she said, and there were many beautiful things in the restaurant that he made.
In 1957, Dick worked his first season at The Lobster Pound. The next year, he told his parents, Barney and Ruth, that Chase was selling the restaurant, and they bought it. His parents added a four-bedroom apartment to the structure and enlarged the porches. Everett Basford, who once made a recording of the song "Maiden Cliff," was their carpenter, and Dick worked alongside him. The next season, Patty started waitressing there, and the two worked together.
"She was a good waitress," Dick said.
The couple married in 1960.
In 1972, Dick was thinking about leaving the family business and going to work for Bath Iron Works, but his brother Lynn convinced him they should buy the restaurant from their parents. In the 1990s, when Lynn “had enough of the winters and the cold” and moved to Florida, Dick bought the business from him. From there, Dick and Patty ran the business, with Patty running the gift shop and keeping the restaurant's books for more than 40 years.
The McLaughlins added the gift shop onto the restaurant, after the "Quonset hut" building where it was located in the parking lot was dragged away in a hurricane in the 1980s. They renovated and expanded the dining rooms and gift shop multiple times. They bought the land on the other side of Lincolnville Beach and established a lobster takeout business, which is now McLaughlin's Lobster Shack and owned by their son Rick. They changed and expanded menus to keep up with the times.
In 2014, the McLaughlins brought in new investors to open Andy's Brew Pub at The Lobster Pound. The plan was “to enhance the business and to have a new direction,” Dick said. At the time, he hoped to offer customers something new, add appeal to a younger crowd, and extend the restaurant's season beyond the usual six months it had been open for the preceding decades. Dick said the brew pub was not built to “rescue” The Lobster Pound — he, his son Rick, and Andrew Hazen, owner of Andrew's Brewing Co., all thought it was a good idea.
But the new venture did not increase earnings or extend the restaurant's season the way the McLaughlins and investors hoped it would. Dick believes the location, 7 miles from Camden and 12 from Belfast, was a factor.
“People did not want to stop at a bar and then drive,” he said.
One of the restaurant's largest overhead costs was an annual sewer payment for a system that was mandated by the state and installed to clean up and protect Lincolnville's beach and harbor. The McLaughlins are proud that they were recognized for the environmental improvement; however, they were required to pay $60,000 upfront for the sewer system, in addition to annual payments that over 22 years have totaled half a million dollars, according to Dick. The sewer payment was more than their taxes, he said.
Oceanfront taxes, insurances and credit card fees added up as well, while increased competition from new restaurants established from Rockland to Belfast provided many more choices for customers. Flood insurance alone was $10,000, and is expected to continue to go up, Dick said.
He also believes a significant factor contributing to the restaurant's demise was the loss of 26 parking spaces to eminent domain around 2006 for a state beautification project that created new sidewalks, crosswalks and a new parking lot at Lincolnville Beach. Dick explained the parking lot is always full in the summer, and, seeing a full parking lot, people often drive by without stopping.
Dick has decades of involvement in business, government and civic groups. He was president of the Maine Restaurant Association, and in 2003 was awarded its Lifetime Achievement Award. He was chairman of the Camden, Rockport, Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce, a Lincolnville selectman for 11 years and a Waldo County Commissioner for four years.
Though The Lobster Pound is closed, Dick said he has strong feelings about the citizen-initiated minimum wage bill passed Nov. 8. He is not opposed to increasing the minimum wage, but to the loss of the tip credit. He said his waitstaff averaged $23 an hour in tips.
"But to pay a waitress $12 to $15 dollars an hour — that puts us out of business," he said. "A $25 meal will be $35, $45. People can't afford that anymore. Older people aren't going to be able to afford to go out to eat at all.
"In one way, maybe it's time to be done," he said. "Stop fighting the elements. In the end, I wanted to retire, but I would rather have done it a different way."
Before the McLaughlins closed the doors to The Lobster Pound, they paid their purveyors and left the building in good repair.
"We cleaned the buildings, drained the water, didn't leave any mess. And walked away. I even gave The First a list of what they had to do before anyone attempted to open the place again," Dick said.
Dick is now driving a school bus and will be working with a charter bus company. Patty said the benefits of a long marriage have helped them through, as well as "our faith and what keeps you strong and interested in what's going on in the world."
Courier Publications reporter Susan Mustapich can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.