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Exploring the High Price Tag of a NYC Lobster Roll and Fries

New York City hasn’t always been known for its lobster rolls.

Fifteen years ago, Ms. Povich decided to change that. Her love for lobster began at her grandparents’ house in Maine, where despite having a kosher kitchen, they had an outdoor area specifically for enjoying shellfish.

Ms. Povich and her husband initially started selling whole lobsters from a building they purchased in Red Hook, Brooklyn. They began bringing back fresh lobster meat and top-split buns from Maine, as they believed these buns were better suited for lobster rolls than the side-split version, which was the only kind available in New York at the time.

Their business grew rapidly, earning them a reputation as a great place to hang out on a summer Saturday afternoon.

The pandemic greatly affected the Red Hook Lobster Pound’s operations, leading to price increases across the board. By mid-2022, Ms. Povich felt compelled to raise the price of their signature item, a lobster roll and fries.

The current business climate feels uncertain. While the restaurant remains open year-round, lobster rolls are primarily a warm weather delicacy, and reduced foot traffic was observed in Red Hook during the rainy and humid summer. Sales have declined for the first time in years, and winter is approaching.

Ms. Povich maintains strong relationships with her lobster suppliers and emphasizes her commitment to acquiring the best quality meat at the best possible price. She is unwilling to compromise on the quality of their frozen fries. However, she has made concessions due to the challenging economic environment that has negatively impacted restaurants across the city.

They discontinued offering free coleslaw with a lobster roll after noticing that many customers were discarding it. Additionally, they switched from using china plates to aluminum pie plates, which are better suited for outdoor dining and require less water and labor to clean.

The restaurant’s popular $25 Wednesday night lobster dinner, which has a loyal following among locals, is put on hold when lobster prices rise.

However, certain expenses are unavoidable.

Occasionally, a lobster claw falls on the floor and must be discarded, which is particularly painful given the high cost of every ounce.

Maintaining the website costs nearly $400 per month, and listing the restaurant on the Resy reservations service adds another $450 to the expenses. Ms. Povich acknowledges that they are likely to continue incurring losses on Seamless, the food delivery service, where a lobster roll and fries costs $44.77, with the restaurant only making $24.75.

Recently, the restaurant had to absorb the cost of a couple of hundred dollars from customers who used phony credit cards to place online orders. However, they are hesitant to leave delivery apps as it may bring in new customers, despite the risks.

Additionally, there is a constant need for repairs and maintenance, 3 percent credit card fees amounting to about $73,000 annually, and a liability policy that covers $5,000 of dental work for a customer who chips a tooth on a lobster roll, regardless of fault.

There have been complaints about the prices. While customers rarely voice concerns in person, online platforms like Yelp and Google Reviews consistently feature grievances about the perceived lack of lobster to justify the price. Ms. Povich asserts that she cannot see a way to lower costs without compromising on quality.

She hopes that New Yorkers grappling with high living costs will understand that she faces the same challenges, operating in an equally unaffordable city.

Nevertheless, Ms. Povich prefers people to complain about her prices rather than her food.

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