To its hungry patrons, the business of Luke’s Lobster looks uncomplicated: Seating in its restaurants, called shacks, consists of a handful of reclaimed-wood tables, and the menu features little more than seafood rolls, chowders and chips.
Yet Luke’s involves a vast and vertically integrated crustacean operation. Based in Brooklyn and Saco, Maine, the company buys shellfish directly off docks from New Bedford to Nova Scotia and trucks them live to a processing facility in Maine. It then sells the tails to distributors and Whole Foods and ships knuckle and claw meat to its 39 locations — from its original shack, which opened in Manhattan in 2009, to newer spots in places like San Francisco and Taiwan.
The man overseeing the shellfish supply chain is the company’s 34-year-old eponymous co-founder, Luke Holden.
5:30 a.m. On weekdays I wake up either to my alarm or to the sounds of my 8-month-old daughter, Poppy. This morning my wake-up call is the baby monitor.
6 a.m. I head to the gym, which is six minutes from my house in South Portland, Maine. I am a master of the 30- to 40-minute workout — high reps at low weight and no breaks between sets. It’s a good sweat and mental restart.
7:30 a.m. Shower, a quick breakfast, and then I head to our seafood company offices, about 15 miles away. Our entire Maine operation runs out of two neighboring 25,000-square-foot warehouses that include all our seafood processing and manufacturing, leaving a cramped space for offices, including the windowless room where I have my desk.
8 a.m. Biweekly check-in with my father. He’s worked in the shellfish business his whole life. These days he’s both an investing partner in Luke’s Lobster and works full-time managing inventory for us, too.
9:30 a.m. Weekly conference call with my direct reports. We’ve got crab season coming up, about $150,000 worth of improvements underway at the plant here in Saco, a new distribution partnership with Whole Foods, and we’re launching a marketing partnership with Petrossian, the caviar brand, in New York City this Thursday.
10:30 a.m. I sit down with the president of our seafood company in his office. I try to have a deep-dive meeting with each of my seven direct reports twice a month, where we discuss both near-term budgets and loftier plans. Today we talk through our plan to crush down the lobster shells and sell them as fertilizer — we eventually want to get to 100 percent utilization of our raw material.
1 p.m. I huddle in a conference room to talk fishing with my father and my co-founder, Ben Conniff. We’re trying to get out in front of a coming bait shortage — the quota for herring is getting reduced by 80 percent. We also rank boats for the coming season, picking which suppliers we’ll buy from regularly as we purchase 1.5 million pounds of crab in the next five months.
2 p.m. Conference call with the restaurant group in Brooklyn. The menu boards need to be completely redone. When they tell me how long it’s going to take, I lose my temper and get short with everybody. Patience is something I’m working on.
3:30 p.m. Meeting with the catering team in their temporary offices (a large unused cooler we call the Catering Cave). We chat about the wedding planner circuit and a potential partnership with the PGA.
4:30 p.m. More coffee — I operate on coffee all day so I don’t have any crashes. Then it’s time for another bimonthly meeting.
5:30 p.m. Call with a real estate broker. My wife, Laisee, and I are trying to sell the house she bought before we met. It’s been on the market since August. Fun, fun.
6:30 p.m. Home. Unfortunately, Poppy has already fallen asleep, so I miss out on all the smiles and laughs (also the last diaper change of the day).
8:30 p.m. Bed.
6 a.m. Wake up, hit the gym.
7:30 a.m. Head to our seafood company, work through some emails to start the day with a clean inbox.
8:30 a.m. I host four executives from our insurance brokerage for a tour of our facility. I’m embarrassed to say I find tailoring insurance protection exciting.
12:30 p.m. Taste-testing with my co-founder, Ben, and our culinary director, Lauren, at her house in Portland. For 2019 we’re thinking about a lobster roll topped with white truffle butter, cocktail Jonah crab claws with a bunch of different sauces, lightly fried scallops and a wasabi soy roll. Usually I like my lobsters with no frills, but the white truffle butter roll is so frickin’ good.
3 p.m. Cash management call with our chief financial officer and the seafood company team. Running our business means making expensive buys from lobstermen and paying them in seven days without fail. That requires extremely close attention to inflows and outflows. Afterward, Ben and I talk about ideas for new combos, happy-hour promotions and other ways to grow restaurant sales.
6 p.m. I head home for some quality play time in the living room with Poppy before she conks out. If I stop paying attention for a minute, she climbs on the couch to ensure I know she’s dangerous.
7:15 p.m. Laisee and I catch up on our days over a nice dinner. Typically I cook, but tonight Laisee makes a great chicken parm.
9:30 p.m. I grab my skates and head to my hockey league. I’m extra lucky that my family lets me sneak out on Tuesday nights — I’ve loved hockey since I was 5. I stink now but I’m still very competitive about it.
11:15 p.m. Settling down to sleep after a game can be brutal.
7 a.m. Lazy morning. I let the baby monitor be my alarm, change a diaper and play with Poppy.
8:30 a.m. I’m working from home today; a general contractor is coming over to fix some leaky windows. Ben and Lauren come over to prepare a photo shoot for the Whole Foods partnership in my kitchen. We make lobster rolls, lobster potato pizza, lobster crostini and lobster risotto — all dishes you can make at home.
1 p.m. Exit interview call with a general manager of our restaurant group. She was fantastic, and I’m sad to see her go.
2 p.m. Biannual conference call with our folks at Bank of America. Thank god we’ve got a great C.F.O. I am not a compliance buff.
3:30 p.m. I rush to the Portland waterfront for a meeting with a community advocate. We want to add a restaurant alongside our buying station at the Portland Pier. The current owners on the waterfront are cautious; they want to preserve the city’s charm. I walk her through what we’d like to do. It goes well.
4:30 p.m. Back to the office. Ben and I discuss 2019 marketing and culinary plans, and logistics of delivery service.
7 p.m. I head home, make dinner for the wife, then pack for Boston and New York.
6 a.m. Wake up, no exercise, all play with Poppy till it’s time to leave.
8 a.m. I board a bus from Portland to Boston, and spend the ride writing emails and talking on the phone with four different seafood processors to try to figure out who has what lobster inventory at what price. We’re short right now.
10 a.m. In Boston I attend a two-hour meeting of our trade group, the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. Their public relations agency gives a solid presentation but it needs some tweaking before going to the entire board.
1:40 p.m. Train to New York City. On board I dial into conference calls with the restaurant group, then hear a sales pitch from an old college friend who has started a “ghost kitchen” — a shared commissary that just fulfills delivery orders. I think it might be interesting in San Francisco, where we may add a food truck.
6 p.m. I hustle through rush hour to our shack in Midtown East for the press event with Petrossian Caviar. Tonight we’re swanking it up, playing Louis Armstrong and Etta James, pouring wine and serving caviar lobster rolls to journalists, podcast producers and Instagram influencers. I let Ben go up and address the crowd. Honestly, I prefer one-on-one conversations to this kind of thing.
8:30 p.m. Dinner at an Italian restaurant in the East Village with prospective partners from Singapore. Three months ago they visited the seafood company in Maine. Now they’re spending time in the New York shacks. Ordinarily I order whatever lobster dish is on the menu, just to taste it. Tonight I skip that and go heavy on pasta.
11:30 p.m. Miserable bumper-to-bumper cab ride back to my brother’s apartment in Greenpoint, where I stay when I’m in the city.
7 a.m. Wake up, get in a 15-minute workout of air squats, push-ups and stretches.
8 a.m. I commute to our food hall location in the Plaza hotel in Manhattan, cleaning out my inbox on the train. The Singapore partners are sleeping in, so I have an impromptu meeting with my development team about French fries. (This year we tested fryers in four locations.)
11 a.m. The Singapore partners arrive. We head to the food hall and get behind the counter at Luke’s to show them how we do things.
2 p.m. Lunch with the Singapore company’s founder and our private equity partner. The Singapore guy really wants to eat at a Shake Shack, so we head to the one at 86th and Lexington.
2:30 p.m. I get on a call with some stressed-out New Bedford crab boat owners. Right now the Canadian processors are sitting on a mound of finished inventory and trying to fire-sale their inventory, hurting the boat price. I want to pay them more than the Canadians, but I worry our wholesale business will suffer if they undercut us down the road.
4 p.m. Flight from LaGuardia back to Portland with my brother, Mike, and his girlfriend, Megan, who are spending the weekend with us.
6 p.m. Family dinner. I speak with my dad in detail about the New Bedford crab situation. I’m eager to work with the boat owners; he’s from the old guard and urges me to protect myself in case prices plummet.
Interviews are conducted by email, text and phone, then condensed and edited.