Doug Povich, Red Hook Lobster Truck Owner: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 2 PM
Doug Povich, owner of the Red Hook Lobster truck, talked to chatters about expansion plans, his second-favorite lobster roll, and new desserts for the truck.
Todd Kliman is out of town, so we invited in Doug Povich, a telecommunications and technology lawyer who's best known for his contributions to Washington's food-truck scene: He's owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound, a mobile vendor that drew three-hour lines its first day on the streets last summer. And it's still incredibly popular: The truck took first place in our reader-voted Food Truck Fight, and the company recently rolled out a second truck. Here's your chance to ask everything lobster-related that you've ever wanted to know. Our first question for Doug: You brought lobster rolls to our office, right? Hi everyone. Thanks to Washingtonian for having me guest host for Todd! Big shoes to fill but I'll do my best. So, off to the first question…
Luv me my lobbies but can we please gave other desserts besides whoopee pies?
That might be tough. Whoopie pies ARE the official dessert of Maine after all. We're actually tinkering with the idea of soft serve ice cream but it's hard to find room on the truck!
Who is the Lobster Lady?
Great question! The Lobster Lady is my wife, Robyn. She's also known as the Queen of Company Culture around the kitchen. She keeps things going in the direction we want for the company. She's a life coach in real life. Check her site out at lovewhatiscoaching.com
How much money can someone realistically make as a mobile food truck owner? $100K, $200K, $500K ???
That's a tough one. Some make a good living and others go out of business. It all depends on you concept and how well the marketplace takes to it. I think there's a misperception out there that food truck owner operators owners and operators make a lot of money. By and large they don't but if you work hard and get lucky you could maybe quit being a lawyer:-)
love the new whoopie pies!
Thanks! We do too. We were getting ours from NY but we wanted to source more locally so we did some testing with local bakers and Whoopsies came out on top. They just won best new food at the National Harbor Wine & Food Fest. Plus they're great ladies. Look for some new, fun flavors over the Summer.
Near Southeast, DC
What's the most humane way to kill a lobster?
On all things lobster, I go to the bible on lobsters which for me is a book by Trevor Corson titled "The Secret Life of Lobsters." If you haven't read it you should. There's actually a love story going on among all those crustaceans! I hear the best way is actually the tip of a knife placed right above the shell of the body, behind the head. I've never done it though. I take some comfort in what the scientists say — that they don't have a nervous system. They're essentially just a large underwater insect. Probably why Mainers sometimes call them "bugs".
How much gas do you use in a week?
Hmmm… I'd say now that we're running two trucks, we fill each one up about 3 times every two weeks. and that's about 20 gallons per fill. We chose diesel trucks and a diesel generator so we could eventually move to biodiesel. Right now, the closest filling station for that is about 40 miles from DC, but we hope to switch over sometime soon. If anyone has any ideas on that, let us know! We try to be as eco-friendlly as possible. All our packaging, for example, is "green" and we're working to make it more green.
Hey Doug! Love the lobster rolls. How many do you sell, on average, in a lunch hour? Just wondering.
Well, that's a highly classified number and if I tell you, the Lobster Lady won't let me come home tonight:-). As she says, we sell lots and lots. If you go on our founding company's website (owned by my cousin, Susan Povich), www.redhooklobsterpound.com, she keeps a running tally of lobster rolls sold, kinda like McDonald's used to do with hamburgers. We're not at "Billions and Billions" yet, but we're trying.
What is your favorite way to prepare lobster at home?
I think the best way is actually grilling them outside on the grill. Susan gave me a great recipe which I can share with you if you send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you ever coming to Virginia?
Boy, I need to do shorter answers to get to all these questions! Thanks for your interest. Yes, we'll absolutely be in VA soon. After all, Virginia is for (lobstah) lovers! First Arlington then Fairfax County. We're doing the permit process now. The launch of Lobby 2 slowed us down a bit on that front. Thanks to all the Virginians who've been patiently waiting.
Which location in town usually does the best?
I think most food truckers would agree that Farragut Square is the best. It's a great open space in the heart of the business district. tom from DC Slices started "Farragut Fridays" a while back and it stuck so a lot of the trucks go there on Fridays. We try to spread it around but I think we might be there this Friday. Shhhh…
Columbia Heights, DC
What advice would you give to a person hoping to break into the food truck business? Any types of food that are particularly (or terribly) suited to being served out of a truck?
I think you can serve pretty much anything out of a truck that you can in a restaurant, but to be successful, I think you need to pick only a few great dishes and do them well. There's no room or time to offer lots of options. If you want to start a truck, go to a meeting of the DC Food Truck Association. Most of the local trucks are members and it's a very friendly group with lots of experience that they're willing to share. Check out www.dcfta.org. Good luck!
I always thought lobster rolls were a summer dish, but apparently you can eat them all year long. Is the lobster you catch in the warmer months different than what you catch during the cold ones?
Yes, they're different. The lobsters in the winter are hard shells and in the summer you get soft shells. For an awesome (and some might say erotic) description of the whole molting thing, again check out The Secret Life of Lobsters. Truly amazing process.
Hi Todd, I am looking at every issue of the Washingtonian hopping to see my favorate restaurant Athens Glill in Gaithersburg Maryland but I can not find any articals. How come you have forgotten this excellent Greek Restaurant? It is the best authentic Greek food in the metro area and evry time we go for lunch or dinner is better then before.I think is time to pay them a visit and try the new items. you will love them.
I wouldn't dare answer that for Todd, but if you want the best lobster roll in town, go to a place called Red Hook Lobster Pound – DC. It's a food truck but it's really good.
What's your second favorite lobster roll in the area?
My partner, Leland Morris, and I really like the one at Hank's Oyster bar. It comes closest to the authentic Maine roll that we both prefer and that we take great pains to create.
Are you thinking of doing more trucks here or in other cities?
Yes, we need to get another truck in the DC metro area to satisfy the demand all you guys have for these things. Other cities are a possibility but the whole regulatory part is a big challenge. Did you know, for example, that Baltimore just banned all food rucks from downtown Baltimore?? Crazy!
My co-worker and I tweeted last week asking when/if you were coming to Bethesda/Friendship Heights. No answer.
Yes! We needed to get a few more crew members permitted in MoCo but we'll be there late this week or next. Friendship Heights next week for sure.
Hi Doug! Welcome to the chats. Just curious…since you went head-to-head with other trucks in the reader-voted Food Truck Fight, have you been to other trucks in the area to sample their wares? Have you been to our (Frederick's own) Blues BBQ truck? What do you think?
We always go to sample the wares of our food truck bretheren. That's the best part of the job! And we have a date to hook up with the ladies over at Solar Crepes who were so gracious in the championship. Can't wait to meet them.
Do you have any plans in opening an actual restaurant (sort of deli counter style) in the future?
We kinda like the whole mobile thing but if a great space turned up in a great location, we'd consider it.
Where does Red Hook get its lobsters? How much time between "harvesting" and serving in a lobster roll?
Our lobsters come from the area around Portland, Maine. We get 2-3 shipments a week so it's a matter of a few days.
Have you thought about franchising the Red Hook Lobster truck?
We've had a lot of requests from people but for now it's going to stay a family business. Also, the uncertain regulatory environment make it very difficult to franchise.
Ever thought about coming out this way at lunch time?
Ballston? Absolutely. That's where the Solar Crepes ladies, among others, hang out so we'll definitely be showing Ballston some lobstah love. Hang tight.
I was wondering about the restrictions that the city puts on the truck and how that works. A woman who said she walked nearly and hour to meet the truck and myself were very dissapointed one day when we arrived at the truck prior to the time that you said you'd be closing and the truck was already closed although you weren't sold out.
Very sorry about that. DC law currently requires all food trucks to close their service window when the line ends. It's so crazy that technically they can make us move after the last person in line have given their order but not yet received their food! Fortunately, most of the vending police are reasonable, but it's still the law. The DC Food Truck Association is working to change the regulations so trucks can stay a reasonable amount of time, even without a line. Keep checking out www.dcfta.org because there will be a time when the food trucks will need everyone's support to make sure the City Council does the right thing.
How is it that when we go to Maine for lobster rolls they aren't nearly as good as yours? No joke. And is there a way to more easily contact the catering division than through email where it's not responded to more often than not. Need those lobstah roll fixes in bulk sometimes!
Thanks. Like I said, we try to keep it authentic and I guess sometimes it's too authentic! Sorry about the catering delays in responding. We've recently changed things around a bit so try email@example.com. We have problems doing smallish orders but we're working on a solution for that. Stay tuned!
How do you feel about the tension between food trucks and restaurant owners?
Unfortunately, I think it's the result of literally a handful of bricks and mortar restaurant owners stirring the pot. The vast majority of restaurants support trucks because they themselves would like to do one. Examples include Austin Grill and Pi Truck. Plus Spike Mendelsohn just started a truck and Jose Andres is a big fan of trucks (including ours!). We have great relationships with a number of restaurants, bars and retail businesses who are enlightened and see how a truck that draws sometimes hundreds of customers to their place of business can be a win-win. In the long run, food truck are here to stay simply because people want them and the City Council members generally like to listen to their constituents. Plus, they're great for the city as a way of invigorating areas that are otherwise somewhat dead.
Old Town, VA
Hi Doug, Given your constant interaction with people, I'm curious if Red Hook has ever done any fundraising for charitable causes? Is this something you'd consider pursuing?
Yes, we do a ton of charitable giving and events. We've supported Miriam's Kitchen, DC Cenral Kitchen, breast cancer charities, animal rescue organizations and more. Plus, our Lobster Love Campaign is a way for our customers to share the love too. People often donate their change, which we match, and then give to a local charity, usually one that's food related. We've also helped schools with their fundraising efforts. Feel free to contact us. Obviously, we can say yes to everyone but we try:-)
not dcfta.org you mean http://dcfoodtrucks.org/
Yes! Thank you. I got confused with the first site that was set up. It's now www.dcfoodtrucks.org.And I think on that note, I'll sign off. Thanks so much for all the great questions!If I wasn't able to answer yours, feel free to shoot an email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll try to answer them! Lobstah love!