As wind rises and unexpected rain starts to drizzle out of mostly blue skies, Deb Keller jovially speaks with the people walking up to the Cousins Maine Lobster food truck parked in a Raleigh business center. As she cheerfully shoos customers to wait in their cars and out of the rain while carrying loose trays of food to waiting windows, it becomes clear that this isn’t just another franchise food truck.
“We get our produce from the market or someplace local, depending on what we’re doing,” said Keller. “We’re very locally grounded. I’ve been here for 20 years. Our staff is local, we are local.”
Keller owns the Raleigh franchise food truck “Cousins Maine Lobster,” notable for its appearance on the popular pitching program “Shark Tank.” The eponymous cousins are Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac, born in Maine and raised on a regional delicacy that is as common as corn in the Midwest or sweet potatoes here in North Carolina but a luxurious rarity elsewhere: lobster.
“We order a ton of lobster and it’s delivered weekly. When we get in a pickle, it’s sent to me overnight,” said Keller. “It’s processed in Maine … claws, knuckles, and tails. Our lobster tails come to us raw and we prep them. Even though it’s picked in Maine … we pick it again in our commissary. It’s an authentic product.”
With roughly a pound of meat per lobster and shipments coming in weekly, that’s a lot of crustaceans to sort through. Luckily, supply problems aren’t on the horizon. Maine’s lobster industry is widely known as a model of sustainable food harvesting. In an era where overfishing and environmental problems dominate the national conversation, Maine’s lobster industry and the businesses it enables are a hopeful example of the future of food.
As a franchise-friendly business, Cousins Maine Lobster is a slightly different food truck experience than most other mobile restaurants. Food trucks often find their niche in local tastes and focused chefs, but Cousins has found success in the same place as many other big-name franchise eateries: consistency.
“We are definitely very consistent in our food,” said Keller. “They’re great [Jim and Sabin], they’re dynamite guys, and Barbara Cochran is a fantastic mentor. It’s a great business.”
The Raleigh lobster truck has been serving up fresh lobster rolls and steaming soups for over two years, and with another truck rolling out in July promised to be “a little bigger than this, but absolutely stunning” with more “special surprises” on the way, Deb shows no sign of stopping. Look for Cousins Maine Lobster to make an appearance at the “Rodeo on Rosemary,” happening on March 26!
“There’s a really amazing association and family of trucks and cuisines here,” said Keller. “After we saw [Cousins] on Shark Tank he said ‘that’s what you should do, Deb!’ It was a joke at first, but then we flew to LA, met Jim and Sabin, and fell in love with them. The brand, the cuisine that comes in from Maine, it’s consistent and spot on.”