Cousins Maine Lobster: How One Food Truck Became a Multimillion-Dollar Business
April 17, 2018
Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac tell the story of Cousins Maine Lobster, the story of how they built a food truck into a multimillion dollar business, and the story of Maine, in their new book.
As the story goes—and Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac know how to tell a great story—it all began with a picture they posted to social media. It was a picture of the two cousins along the rocky shores of Maine with their grandfather. They were announcing the launch of a new food, a food truck that was about as far away from Maine as you can get, in Los Angeles. The cousins were hoping to bring a little piece of Maine, in the form of a lobster roll, from the East Coast to the West.
They caught their first big break when a popular lifestyle site retweeted the picture, along with the location they planned to be at the next day. They were wholly unprepared for the crowds that resulted, but they got through the day despite it—in part by entering the crowd and giving away a bit of free lobster to those who were waiting as they figured things out. It was a bumpy first day, but it taught them two important lessons: the importance of good service and the value of authentic marketing. It was, after all, a simple, real picture of them with their grandfather along the coast of Maine—"a family picture that didn't show a truck, a lobster roll, or even a lobster"—that got people to come out. They were surprised by the crowd that greeted them, and almost panicked when they realized they were all there for them, and for their lobster rolls, but they figured it out.
[A]s naive as we have been about the rigors of the food truck business, we have never been wrong about our product. … If you want to know the secret to our success, you can stop reading now. Respect for Maine lobster is our secret.
More than that, respect for Maine is their secret. Respect for their customer is their secret. Hard work is their secret. A couple of big breaks didn't hurt. But it's not like they weren't experts in mobile food preparation and delivery, or serial entrepreneurs looking for the next big idea. Before launching the food truck, one was in sales, and the other in real estate. As they tell it:
We did pretty well at our old day jobs, but it's not like we were in the C-suite. We're not marketing gurus, sales ninjas, or Six Sigma black belts. We're just two guys who decided to serve lobster rolls from a food truck.
There second big break happened when Shark Tank called. They had never seen Shark Tank before being invited on, so the producers had to explain the premise of the show—that they would be pitching their business to investors. They both had the same thought: "Why the hell would anyone want to invest in a food truck?" So they turned down the offer… twice. But they studied the show in the meantime, got to know the personalities of its hosts, and eventually they had an answer for why the hell anyone would want to invest in a food truck: business was booming, and they wanted a second one. The rest, as they say, is history:
The day we entered the Tank, Cousins Maine Lobster had a single food truck that earned around $100,000 a month in sales. Four years later, our company consists of twenty-one food trucks in thirteen cities, a restaurant in West Hollywood, and an online retail business, all of which has earned over $20 million in sales.
Their new book, aptly named Cousins Maine Lobster: How One Food Truck Became a Multimillion-Dollar Business, tells the story of how that happened. But it is It is also a love letter to Maine and its history. While I've never stepped foot there, I appreciate a deep love for place, and their passion is infectious. Their business is built upon that very passion and the story they tell.
When our trucks pull up at stops in Los Angeles, Nashville, Phoenix, Raleigh, or Houston, we don't want our customers to just see Cousins Maine Lobster; we want them to see Maine. We want them to see the story of a state whose history has been lived along a rocky, inhospitable, but stunningly beautiful coast. We want them to see the generations of Mainers who have lived and died by what they pulled from the ocean floor. […] Cousins Maine Lobsters is but one very small piece of Maine's story, but we cherish even that little bit. This connection with something larger than ourselves—larger than a fleet of trucks or a restaurant or a television show—reminds us that our passion continues to drive this business. It reminds us of where we came from, how far we've come, and where we want to go.
But why a book? After all, it seems like they have plenty of work to do already.
We wanted to write this book because we remember what it was like to be wondering "What's next?
What's next for you is probably not going to be an appearance on Shark Tank, but that is only a part of their story. Other than passion and a good story, they have built their business, and their lives, around ten principles that they weave into the chapters of their book:
- Pursue your dream with the best of intentions.
- Ask a million questions.
- Know who you are.
- Play the long game.
- Know why you do it.
- Surround yourself with greatness.
- Not every opportunity is the right opportunity.
- Know what brings you back to your center.
- Build something that lasts.
- Give something back.
In many ways, those are the chapters of their lives so far, which makes a lot of sense, because they are the kind of guys whose business is their life. Because they are the kind of guys who announce their business with a family picture. Because, although they left Maine, they do everything they can to hold true to its values and the story of its people. And all they want to do now is share it, along with a lot of Maine lobster, with the world. They now have a book to do that, as well.
We have 20 copies available.