MAIREAD REILLY/THE HOYA
MAIREAD REILLY/THE HOYA

Living in the D.C. metro area, you may be under the impression that the only way to satisfy a shellfish craving (doesn’t everyone get those?) is with a big pile of Baltimore crabs.

No longer. Georgetown’s newest restaurant is adding lobsters to the mix.

Luke’s Lobster recently opened at 1211 Potomac St., the previous home of Philadelphia Pizza Co. — more commonly known as Philly P’s — and Go Fresh. The restaurant is the brainchild of Luke Holden (MSB ’07), a native of Maine. The Georgetown location is the eighth of Holden’s successful young business and joins sweetgreen and LivingSocial in the ranks of alumni entrepreneurial endeavors that have come to serve the Georgetown community.

After graduating from the McDonough School of Business with a double major in finance and management, Holden followed the same route as many of his peers, taking a job in investment banking.

“I did that for three years,” Holden said, “when I decided to start a side project, something I was a little bit more passionate in.”

As a foundation for building his business, Holden used what he’d learned in professor William Finnerty’s entrepreneurship class during his time at Georgetown.

“[The class] was a great opportunity for me to learn how to put together a business model,” Holden said. “[We worked on] marketing, logistics, product creation. … It really walked you through some of the headers that you need to fill out when you’re thinking of starting a business.”

Holden’s first store opened in the East Village in New York City in 2010, and he juggled his new business with his day job for eight months. However, the great success of his first location spurred Holden to look for opportunities to grow, and he eventually signed a lease for an Upper East Side store and transitioned to working on Luke’s Lobster full time.

Five more locations and one food truck later, Holden has brought his business back to his roots in Georgetown.

“We’ve been hoping [and] looking around in this area for years now,” he said. “It’s hard to find a space that’s got a footprint that is manageable for our concept. This is kind of a perfect feel for us.”

Despite the speed with which Holden’s business has grown, each location presents its own set of challenges. Luke’s Lobster’s Manhattan food truck, the Nauti Mobile, has been particularly trying for Holden.

“It’s insanely difficult to manage,” he explained, noting the animosity of “brick-and-mortar” businesses, the ire of city police and the fickle nature of weather.

“All of those factors make it very, very hard to build any type of consistency, and when you can’t build consistency, it’s hard to build a good consumer base.”

He thinks it’s been worth it, though; the Nauti recently topped Zagat’s New York food truck rankings for the second year in a row.

Last Thursday’s grand opening on Potomac Street was the culmination of a summer’s worth of hard work for Holden and his team, which includes his brother and managing partner, Bryan Holden, and Vice President Ben Conniff, who was one of the first to get on board with Luke’s Lobster. After success in New York, they planned their stores for the DC area, working quickly to open them.

“We signed the lease maybe two and a half months ago,” Holden recalled. “We were opening Bethesda right around the same time, so the space sat dormant for about a month.”

Once the focus transitioned to Georgetown, though, work moved at a quick pace. “[The team was] putting in 14-hour days, probably 30 to 40 days consecutively,” Holden said.

Bringing the space up to Luke’s Lobster standards wasn’t an easy task, either.

“Every time we took a layer [of paint] off, we found a little bit more sludge. We ended up taking it back down to the beams, just really cleaning it up and making sure that it was — well, certainly food safe — and visually appealing.”

If you’ve visited the Penn Quarter or Bethesda locations, the menu at the Potomac Street store will be familiar, Holden said. “We’ll have the full menu that we have at the other stores, so lobster rolls, crab rolls, shrimp rolls, chowders, bisques.” The offerings are simple, prioritizing the ingredients and the authenticity of the preparation. “What we’re really trying to do is just offer folks a high-quality, quick-service offering at a good price,” Holden said.

In developing the Luke’s Lobster menu, Holden focused on sourcing directly from Maine, particularly supporting local fishermen with whom he developed a relationship through his family’s seafood processing business. The connection to Maine goes beyond seafood, though — Luke’s Lobsters offers Maine sodas, Maine buns and Maine ice cream, to name a few.

Holden looks for sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to support the economy of his home state. “We end up selling the seafood to a chowder [and] bisque company back in Maine, and they make our offerings in small batches and sell it back to us.” The store itself is also built using Maine construction materials: The floors, tabletops and ceiling beams are all made of reclaimed lumber from the Pine Tree State.

Looking to the future, Holden is considering bringing his authentic Maine product to cities farther afield, such as Chicago and Los Angeles. But for now, he’s comfortable where he is. “New York and D.C. have been great markets for us,” he said. “There’s a lot more opportunity to continue to serve those markets, so that’s really where our focus is.”

The success of Luke’s Lobster over the past three years would seem to indicate a bright future for the Potomac Street location, and Holden is hoping for the support of the Georgetown community. “We’ve got a handful of Hoyas working with us,” he said. “It’s really, really special to come back to this neighborhood, particularly this spot.”

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