Next up in Metrocurean’s food truck Q & A series — Red Hook Lobster Pound.
With more than 20,000 Twitter followers, Red Hook has carved a niche for itself as one of the most talked about food trucks in DC. Also known as the Lobster Truck, Red Hook serves up lobster rolls in either a mayo-based Maine-style or a butter-drizzled Connecticut-style. Also on the menu are shrimp rolls, whoopie pies, chips, Maine Root soda, homemade lemonade and chowder in the winter months.
Owner Doug Povich says he wanted to bring a traditional summer staple of Maine, where he enjoyed many lobster rolls as a kid, to DC, and a food truck seemed like the best way to do it. Povich also hopes that the social appeal of food trucks and the camaraderie people form while waiting in line will only rev up the demand for food trucks in the city.
Lines for the Lobster Truck might be especially long, but they are obvious proof of the ‘lobstah’ puddin’.
Q: When did your truck first hit the road?
A: Our first day was Aug. 19, 2010, at Farragut Square.
Q: Why did you want to open a truck?
A: My family is from Maine and DC, and we've been enjoying lobster rolls in Maine every summer since I was a child. My cousin and her husband started the business in Red Hook Brooklyn, N.Y., doing traditional, fresh Maine lobster rolls at flea markets and from a storefront. She wanted to expand to DC, and we thought a truck would be fastest, easiest and the most fun.
Q: What makes your menu items perfect for selling from a food truck?
A: I think our menu works for several reasons. First, we use the freshest, highest quality lobster you can get. Second, we have a limited menu (lobster and shrimp rolls, pickles, chips and whoopie pies, plus chowder in the winter) and that allows us to do each item very well. Third, given the space and time constraints on the truck, you need to have items that you can prepare and get out the window quickly, and the rolls lend themselves to that. Finally, it's a unique item (at least it used to be!), and people are always looking for something new, fun and delicious.
Q: What is your most popular item?
A: Our traditional Maine lobster roll (cold lobster meat lightly dressed with our housemade lemon-based mayo in a classic J.J. Nissen top-split New England-style bun topped with scallions and a dash of paprika) is our best seller, closely followed by our Connecticut-style roll (warm lobster drizzled with butter).
Q: How do you anticipate the crowds each day?
A: Over time, you get a general feel for how busy a stop will be, but it varies widely based on weather, day of the week and time of year. We try to visit many different areas of DC (and now Maryland and Virginia, too). We want to develop a following and spread ‘lobstah’ love over a broad geographic area, and we want to help enliven areas of the city that don't have a vibrant restaurant or street scene.
Q: As opposed to a stationary restaurant, what’s the best thing about a food truck from the owner’s perspective?
A: The best thing is being able to set up shop in virtually any area of the city. And because we roam around, each day is an adventure, which I think is a bit different from a bricks-and-mortar restaurant.
Q: Why do you think food trucks have grown in popularity?
A: Overall, I think there's a very social component to standing outside in line and eating at a food truck with friends that is different than going to a bricks-and-mortar restaurant and that keeps people coming back for more. We've attracted over 20,000 Twitter followers in less than a year in business, which I think speaks to that.
Q: What do you think the future is for food trucks?
A: I think they're certainly here to stay, but there's a lot of regulatory uncertainty that needs to be sorted out and how that goes that will impact the number of trucks that survive. I think you'll continue to see bricks-and-mortar restaurants experiment with trucks to test-market new dishes and scout locations for expansion. And a lot of new people are going straight into the business, which is great.
At the same time, in a mature food truck market like L.A. for example, there is talk of the bloom coming off the rose with trucks focused more on the profit motive than on the food and the vibe.
The bottom line, though — there are a lot of customers out there who support and love their food trucks, so as long as the demand is there, I think you'll have a strong core of great trucks providing great food choices to consumers.
Q: Ever broken down?
A: Breakdowns occur all the time. It's one of the things a bricks-and-mortar restaurant doesn't have to deal with. For cost reasons, most people convert used trucks into mobile kitchens, so you have a lot of vehicle-related issues. Plus, the power source is usually a generator, and they require lots of maintenance and if (or I should say when) it goes down, you're basically out of business.
You hope it doesn't occur during a service period when you have a ton of people in line, but you know, Murphy's Law. Moreover, most commercial kitchen equipment isn't designed to be jostled around in a truck so there's a lot more maintenance involved. Breakdowns are part of the business — over time you get used to them.
Also check out:
• Food Truck Q & A: Basil Thyme
• Food Truck 5 Bites: Red Hook's Leland Morris
Katie Bascuas has lived in D.C. for the past year and a half, and when she isn’t working or traveling, she loves exploring new restaurants, farmers markets and bars in the city. A graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Katie also enjoys writing about food and is excited to be contributing to Metrocurean.