Taking Stock, A Season of Appreciation

In his latest column, Luke's Lobster founder and CEO reflects on gratitude amidst crisis

The fall shift in seasons always comes swiftly; unlike the long wind up to summer, forever delayed by mud season and cold temps, fall arrives without warning.  Suddenly, the days shorten down, weather windows for fishing all but disappear, and Maine transforms almost overnight from the lush greens of summer to the reds and oranges of fall.  For me, this shift, with shorter days and cooler temps, leads me to take stock – of summer, historically our busiest time for the shacks and the business, and therefore of life.  This year, in particular, as I take stock and look ahead to what I know will be an unpredictable winter, I am struck by a sense of appreciation and gratitude.

In the lingering days of summer, we had begun to see some light at the end of what had been a long tunnel of COVID-19 distrptions: the supply chain faucet shut off, the closing of all but one of our shacks, the furloughs and layoffs of staff that was like family.  Late August brought relief that the lobster market didn’t crater; the boat price remained reasonably stable, fishermen kept fishing, and we were able to keep buying from them.  As we began reopening, first our processing plant, and then gradually, our shacks, we had issues with COVID but were able to manage.  We’ve learned to operate in the “new normal” of temperature checks, social distancing, mask wearing, and layers upon layers of safety protocols.  

Mid-summer, I was inspired by the transformation of a routine strategy product meeting into a heartfelt discussion about the need to showcase gratitude and appreciation. This sense of gratefulness and the desire to give back in many ways has carried the team through the pandemic: our online ordering platform that allowed guests to donate lobster rolls to frontline workers kept moral afloat in those early days of COVID, when no one knew which way was up. All of us sought the privilege of delivering the rolls to hospitals and health care facilities. It gave us a unified sense of purpose and a north star when very little else was steady.  The fisherman’s co-ops we buy from participated, donating crates of lobster which we then made into lobster lasagne and delivered to nursing home facilities. Mid-summer, with the advent of schools reopening, a new type of frontline worker emerged: teachers and childcare providers. We discussed all the ways people had stepped up to make it possible for our children to get educated, and developed a product to allow customers to show their appreciation (spoiler alert, the product we came up with includes a homemade apple pie).  

This meeting gave me pause, and throughout the balance of summer and into these colder days, in my quieter moments, I’ve reflected on the countless times one of my team members has proved extraordinary, by their dedication to each other, their communities and to Luke’s, where they all put in long hours, while balancing their own personal situations of family, finances, and in many cases, relocation from New York to Maine.  If the adage is true that we learn what people are made of in times of crisis, I can say with certainty that the Luke’s team is made of grit, determination, and appreciation of and awareness for others.  These enduring qualities are so keenly Maine and I have seen them again and again over the course of the spring and summer.  

At the shore, resiliency and fortitude are not hard to find.  The fishermen we work with have continued to ply their trade despite uncertainties in the market, ever changing regulations, and an unpredictable catch. While the season was more stable than it could have been from a price standpoint, there is a long road ahead and a myriad of issues facing the seafood supply chain. We have the majority of our shacks open, but revenue is drastically reduced, and uncertainty is the only sure bet for the months ahead. Amid the joyful fall moments – apple picking with my wife and two girls, news of my brother’s engagement – I maintain a watchful eye on the sky.  Ever appreciative of opportunities afforded, but mindful of headwinds still to come, and resolute in our ability, as a team, state and nation, to weather them, together.    

Recently, we forged a formal partnership with Island Institute, an organization we have long collaborated with.  What began as a casual check in during the onset of COVID-19 between myself and Rob Snyder, a good friend and the President of Island Institute, resulted in creative problem solving and a unique for-profit/nonprofit partnership.  Together, we secured funding to build resilience and relief in the seafood supply chain and provide expanded opportunities for Maine’s fishermen and aquaculturists.  In addition to a number of social and environmental goals, this partnership allows Luke’s to offer, and put real marketing dollars behind, a wider array of Maine seafood products. Marketing spend will tell the stories of the product, the harvesters, and ultimately create and sustain demand for Maine’s sustainably sourced seafood.  In its infancy, this project and partnership is one I am profoundly appreciative of, for its ability to raise all boats and offer opportunity for harvesters and businesses up and down our coastline.

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