In the era of consolidation and corporations, the family business may seem like it’s on the way out. However, that’s far from the case for Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac, the founders of Cousins Maine Lobster.
Six years out from their appearance on Shark Tank, the cousins have taken their small LA-based food truck business and built it into a national franchise with brick-and-mortar locations in over 15 cities and all major geographical regions. That number now includes New Jersey.
That’s right—Cousins Maine Lobster is coming to New Jersey. Click here for their April 2018 schedule, with appearances in Neptune, Freehold, and Red Bank this week!
Tselikis and Lomac have appeared on Today, Good Morning America, The Chew, and over a dozen other shows. They let Jersey Bites take a deep dive to learn all about Cousins Maine Lobster.
How did you decide on the name for your food truck?
JIM TSELIKIS: Well, we’re two cousins from Maine, and we serve Maine lobster, so the name sort of came naturally. Maine lobster is the best ingredient in the world, and we’re all about making it accessible and affordable in unique neighborhoods across the U.S. in a way that hasn’t been done before. We want people to know exactly what they’re getting. We also take great pride in being a family-owned business.
On the Menu
What’s your most popular menu item?
SABIN LOMAC: Our most popular item is our Connecticut Roll. It’s a lobster roll made in the Connecticut style. We take our Maine lobster and briefly saute it in butter, and then gently place it into a New England style split-top roll toasted to a golden brown. It’s finished with a generous drizzle of warm lemon butter. Simply speaking, it is heaven in a bun. When our customers take that first bite, you can see it in their faces. We routinely have customers jumping back in line just to order seconds.
What’s your favorite menu item to cook?
TSELIKIS: For me, it has to be our Maine Roll. It’s the classic preparation of a Maine lobster roll: chilled Maine lobster placed into a toasted and buttery New England style split top roll that has been gently lined with mayo, the way Mainers eat them. For us, our Maine Roll brings back some of our earliest memories of growing up in Maine, and our mothers and grandmothers teaching us how to make them.
LOMAC: They taught us from a young age that if you use the best Maine lobster meat, you let it speak for itself. You don’t chop it into bits, you don’t drown it in mayo or obscure the flavor with a bunch of add-ins. You don’t need to make it into a “salad.” What makes Maine lobster so unique is the inherent tenderness and sweetness of the meat: a product of Maine’s coastline, sustainability measures, and harvesting practices. What it all results in is lobster roll perfection—simple, traditional, and authentic.
Getting to Know Cousins
How would you explain your food truck to someone who isn’t familiar?
LOMAC: Our goal is to provide what we call “The Maine Experience” for every customer we serve. That means we want our customers to take a bite of our food, close their eyes, and be transported to a small lobster shack on the coastline of Maine. We achieve this by proudly featuring only wild-caught, sustainably harvested, premium lobster from Maine, always served with care and our signature Downeast Maine hospitality. Aside from our more traditional side, we do like to have fun too by embracing our food-truck roots. Using our same premium Maine lobster meat, we’ve taken to offering inventive takes on comfort classics, like our lobster grilled cheese, our lobster tacos, and our lobster tots—crispy tater tots covered in warm Maine lobster with pico de gallo, and our signature cilantro lime sauce.
What’s something about the business that might surprise people?
TSELIKIS: The logistics can sometimes be mind-boggling, especially when you’re serving a wild-caught product sourced from Maine, sometimes 3,000 miles away from the source. Beyond that, you’re always on the move, and you always have to be ready to adapt to whatever obstacles life throws in your way—traffic, weather, mechanical problems. We’re happy to say we’ve gotten pretty good at it, and approach every day looking to improve.
Future Food Truck Owners
Do you have any advice for aspiring food truck owners?
TSELIKIS: You have to love what you do, and you have to love the food you’re making. Owning and operating a food truck is a labor of love, and if you can hack it, it’s an incredibly rewarding experience. Every item that you pass through your window is a reflection on you, and your passion for what you do. Keeping that in mind, as well as embracing why you and your food are unique, will always serve you well. You always have to remember, you’re not just serving someone lunch, you’re giving them an experience.
LOMAC: If we could take every customer of ours to Maine, we would. For now, we do the next best thing by bringing Maine to them.
What’s your next move?
TSELIKIS: Our company started when two Cousins from Maine had the crazy idea to bring a taste of their home to Los Angeles. We were a hit, and something crazy happened: people started writing in and begging us to open in lobster-starved cities all across the U.S. When we first decided to franchise, our first franchise offering yielded 2,500 actionable leads. And we ended up partnering with only ten of them, because we wanted to form a tight-knit family of owners and operators who shared our passion and vision. We’ve partnered with some of the best people in the world, and we can genuinely say they are family that we speak with every day. We are incredibly excited about our new Freehold truck, run by Victoria and Savas Alkoc. Their passion and ambition will fit in perfectly in the competitive world of food trucks.
LOMAC: We are thrilled to have food trucks opening in other cities as well, coming soon in Pittsburgh, PA, Columbus, OH, and Charlotte, NC. On the restaurant side, we will have brick-and-mortar stores opening in Atlanta, GA, Nashville, TN, Raleigh, NC, early this summer, and Neptune Beach, FL, and Clearwater Beach, FL, later in the year.
It still sounds crazy to say, but we also have a book releasing April 17, 2018, titled Cousins Maine Lobster: How One Food Truck Became a Multimillion-Dollar Business. It’s an entrepreneurial tell-all about how Cousins Maine Lobster came to be.