“They are connected in Raleigh or Houston or Dallas or Los Angeles through this fishery back in Maine because the supply chain is tight and because this is so important for our coast and for our community and our culture and traditions,” Annie Tselikis says. “So we want everybody to know that. We want everybody to be able to tell that story with their customers and we want fishermen to understand the connection that they have to Cousins Maine Lobster. We're looking at this as a full-value chain and a full relationship from the water all the way through to our food trucks and our restaurants all around the country.”
To efficiently distribute lobster from Maine to the rest of the country, the company works with partners to calculate how many pounds it will need over the course of multiple years, and then breaks that down to quarterly, monthly, and weekly.
Jim Tselikis says product reaches Raleigh and Charlotte the same way it does in Columbus, Ohio, or Pittsburgh. The supply chain ends with franchisees, who typically run their own commissary.
“We make sure that the food is coming to them cooked and prepared the same way, same quality, same specs from our teams so that we can all then ultimately use that in a lobster roll, into a lobster quesadilla, into a lobster taco, so that the experience for the customer is the same every time,” Jim Tselikis says.
By the end of 2022, Cousins Maine Lobster expects 19 openings, including eight new cities. In the first quarter, the brand opened in Austin and San Francisco for the first time, and existing franchisees inked deals to expand in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Tampa, Florida. The chain said in April that it’s looking for further growth in markets such as Chicago, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Minnesota, Orlando, St. Louis, Virginia Beach, and the Pacific Northwest.
Cousins Maine Lobster’s sales increased 37 percent year-over-year in 2021, and Jim Tselikis attributes that growth to the inherent nature of food trucks, which allow customers to spread out. The chain also offers a mobile app, decreasing the number of touchpoints even further. Restaurant growth was stunted by COVID, but Jim Tselikis says they’re on the way back.
“They too are smaller and quick serve,” the co-founder says. “People can grab their food, go to the beach, grab the food, go to the park. Ultimately, it allows people to have an address of ours. So if they don't want to chase the truck, they know there's a restaurant, and they can step inside the state of Maine even though they're in New Jersey or Florida.”
Although Cousins Maine Lobster is experiencing significant growth, the familial culture has remained the same. On the back of company T-shirts is the phrase, “family first,” which Jim Tselikis says is more than a marketing tool.
As the brand expands, it will look for the right markets, but the co-founder believes it’s more important to find better people. He insists Cousins Maine Lobster can teach anyone to run the business; they’ve done it already with doctors, nurses, former stay-at-home moms, and recent college graduates.
It’s a family business through and through, Tselikis says.
“We bring this movement, this brand that was on Shark Tank and the TODAY Show and people really get behind and get excited just like our staff and our team and our franchisees,” Jim Tselikis says. “It’s this big family where people are excited to stand in line for three hours, which I think it's crazy and I'm very grateful for it. And people at the end of that say, ‘Oh my gosh, whether it's sunny or rainy or a long line, it was worth it.’ So we want to keep doing that and executing on the truck front and the restaurants.”