Growing up in Cape Elizabeth, Me., Luke Holden worked at his father's seafood processing company, which supplied Whole Foods and the U.S. government. After he enrolled at Georgetown University, his parents instructed him "to stop lobstering and find other internships," Holden says. He accepted one at Swiss bank UBS (UBS) that led to a job at the New York-based boutique investment firm Cohen & Steers Capital Advisors in July 2007.
During his two and a half years there, Holden, 26, worked from 9:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Excel models for the mergers and acquisitions department and other groups. When the recession hit at the end of 2008, the pace slowed at work—and at his father's business, too. Around this time, Holden was growing disillusioned with the paltry state of the lobster roll in New York. "They were all selling for $24, but you got only a little lobster, a lot of mayo, and more filler," he says. He saw an opportunity, and he knew where to find a good distributor.
Holden and his father split the $75,000 startup costs as the young analyst looked for a restaurant location. He ordered equipment during his lunch breaks, and in September 2009 signed a lease on a 300-square-foot storefront in New York's East Village. Holden subsequently hired a partner and pulled in friends to decorate the space with vintage buoys and lobster traps. In October 2009, Luke's Lobster opened with 11 employees—including Holden, who worked nights and weekends while maintaining his day job. When the store began selling 300 sandwiches per day, Holden looked for a second location on the Upper East Side. He gave notice at his firm the day he signed the new lease this April.
Both stores have turned a profit, Holden says, owing in part to money saved from his distribution deal. And, perhaps, because customers appreciate his prices: A lobster roll, chips, and a soda will set you back $16. His banker hours now seem like a cake walk. Holden often starts work at 7:30 a.m. and closes shop at 2 a.m. At least his old bosses are now his clients. "Tomorrow," he says, "I think I'll bring them some lunch."
A Pincer on Profits
Average number of customers at the two Luke's restaurants on a Saturday night
Salary decrease from a career in investment banking to one as a restaurateur
Number of lobsters (knuckle and claw meat only) used to make one sandwich
Trips made to his father's seafood processing plant in Maine over the last year
Data: Luke's Lobster