WISCASSET, Maine — On the primary weekend of June, the scene at Red’s Eats appeared very like summers previous. The road of vacationers ready to order at this picturesque seafood shack ran down the block. The solar beat down and workers handed out umbrellas and water, the form of nicety you present when your restaurant makes “better of” lists and causes traffic jams in attracting individuals from throughout the nation.

Pink’s menu supplied its traditional fare of sea scallops, complete stomach deep-fried clams and its most well-known dish, a contemporary lobster roll, “piled excessive.”

The one change was the value: This yr, the lobster roll is $30.

“Are you kidding me?” mentioned Bindu Gajria, who was vacationing from Philadelphia and hadn’t checked the menu earlier than getting in line. “I used to be going to order one, however now I’m having second ideas.”

And $30 was a relative cut price. Two weeks earlier, as reported in the Bangor Daily News, Pink’s was promoting the sandwich for $34 — a mere $136 to feed a household of 4.

Up and down the coast of the northeastern United States, the value of lobster — and thus, lobster rolls — is at historic highs, say restaurateurs who serve them.

“Essentially the most it’s ever been,” mentioned Steve Kingston, proprietor of the Clam Shack in Kennebunkport, Maine, who this summer time is charging $24.95 for his lobster roll.

Final yr, the lobster roll was $18.95, however the value of lobster meat “was so excessive that we had no alternative however to go considerably larger,” he mentioned.

On the Lobster Touchdown in Clinton, Conn., an eatery that’s earned praise in Yankee magazine for its roll, the price is up 75 cents from final yr, to $19.75.

“For us, a household of 4 is 80 bucks after which gross sales tax, which is nothing to do with me,” mentioned Enea Bacci, an proprietor. “In all places round us it’s $21, $22, $24. For me, I didn’t wish to go $22 and shock the individuals.”

As with used automobiles and homes, the value spike in lobster meat is, partly, a matter of provide and demand exacerbated by the pandemic. House cooks, caught inside throughout the lockdown, turned to all manner of seafood to develop their palates and study new kitchen expertise over the previous yr.

“The processing sector is demanding a number of meat,” mentioned Dick Douty, an proprietor of Douty Bros., a lobster wholesaler and processor in Portland, Maine. “There’s extra gamers, and there’s no more lobsters.”

Is lobster roll inflation, dare we are saying, transitory? It’s true the catch tends to be decrease in Might and June and will increase by way of July and August, because the lobsters migrate to shore with the rising water temperatures.

However the lobster trade can also be “inefficient by design,” mentioned Annie Tselikis, the chief director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association.

There are roughly 4,500 licensed lobstermen within the state of Maine, and each fishing vessel is an impartial operator. “The fishery and the availability chain are utterly disconnected,” Ms. Tselikis mentioned. “I can’t inform these boats to go fishing,” if a captain decides to take the day without work.

And in terms of processing, she added, “We don’t have a number of automation on this trade as a result of we’re coping with an animal that has two massive claws, eight legs, a tail and an exoskeleton. To ensure that that lobster to get out of the ocean and to a shopper is an unimaginable course of. This isn’t a scorching canine. It isn’t a hamburger.”

All of which has resulted in an epic mismatch between provide and demand to this point this yr. So epic, the truth is, that Pink’s opened in April with no lobster on its menu. That’s like Peter Luger opening with no steak.

However the lobstermen and girls from whom Pink’s buys weren’t having good harvests, even offshore. So it was both go with out till reside lobster was obtainable or serve frozen meat — an possibility that Debbie Gagnon, an proprietor of Pink’s, likened to “a stake within the coronary heart.”

Sporting a crimson Pink’s T-shirt and ball cap, Ms. Gagnon spoke to a reporter by way of the order window, the place she was concurrently scribbling on a pad and making bulletins over a loudspeaker (“Welcome to Pink’s. Prepare for the very best lunch in Maine! … Final weekend we had Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon ready in line …”).

“Frozen lobster is like moist cardboard,” she mentioned. “And it’s not who we’re. I’d by no means, ever serve frozen lobster.”

Simply down the hill from Pink’s, one other lobster shack, Sprague’s Lobster, was promoting its roll for $25.95, and also you didn’t have to face in line. Additional up the coast, at McCloon’s Lobster Shack on Sprucehead Island, the roll was $19.95. Then there was Mr. Bacci down in Connecticut together with his 20-cents-off roll.

Was there a gouging of vacationers by some eateries? Or are various costs a sign of particular person eating places’ strategy to the roll?

The homeowners of McCloon’s, which embody Mr. Douty, additionally personal a wharf, the place they furnish the lobstermen with bait and gasoline and purchase lobsters immediately, making provide much less of a difficulty. They stuff their $20 lobster roll with 4 ounces of meat.

Pink’s serves a buttery, heaping roll that comprises a lot meat — about eight ounces — the bun is invisible. Reducing the portion dimension could be one other stake within the coronary heart.

Ms. Gagnon hopes to decrease the value as the availability will increase. However many eating places set the lobster roll value at first of the season and keep it. Mr. Kingston, who tends to function this manner, mentioned figuring out the value for his 5½ ounce roll was “painful” this yr.

“I fear about these things,” he mentioned. “We’re on individuals’s bucket lists. They’ll inform me, ‘We bought off the exit to come back right here. We perceive you serve the Bushes.’ However there comes a degree.”

How a lot is an excessive amount of for a summer time meals custom?

“I didn’t assume we have been there at $24.95, however I’ve been frightened,” Mr. Kingston mentioned. “I’m fairly positive we’re not promoting as many as 2019.”

Locations just like the Clam Shack, which has gained the Lobster Roll Rumble a number of occasions, and Pink’s, might have pricing energy, a minimum of throughout the vacationer season — particularly after final yr’s misplaced summer time, as Individuals are touring and embracing life exterior their houses once more.

Steve Pulliam and his spouse, Allison, who have been amongst these ready within the scorching solar at Pink’s, had traveled from Fayetteville, Ark., to be there. Visiting Maine was “on the bucket listing,” Ms. Pulliam mentioned.

Did the $30 price ticket (plus tax) for a lobster roll give them pause?

“No, as a result of that is in all probability the one time this summer time I’ll have a lobster roll,” Mr. Pulliam mentioned. It was additionally his first time.

After standing for 40 minutes within the slow-moving line, the couple approached the window. They ordered two lobster rolls, scallops, French fries and two sodas. Complete price: “Ninety {dollars} even, pricey,” Ms. Gagnon mentioned.

Mr. Pulliam had already justified it: “I’m glad I didn’t deliver the youngsters.”



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