Lobster Maine-ia, a family business borne out of summer vacations


Ray Kenna, owner of Lobster Maine-ia, with his children — Anna, 13, Claire, 15, R.J., 11, and Nick, 19 — who help with the family business. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

After 25 years of shuttling lobsters from summer vacations in Maine to their home in Chantilly, Ray and Kim Kenna decided to make a business of it.

“It got to the point where we were bringing back 300, 400 lobsters for our friends,” said Ray, 48. “People would come up and say, ‘Hey, can you bring me back 10 lobsters?’ ‘Can you bring me back 20?’”

The couple started Lobster Maine-ia in February. Shipments of lobsters — up to 400 pounds at a time — arrive by truck from Portland, Maine, three or four times a week.

“It’s grown every single week,” Ray said. “We started off selling 500 pounds of lobster a week, and now we’re at about 1,000 pounds.”

The lobsters are sold to a number of area restaurants and country clubs, including Belle Haven Country Club in Alexandria and McGarvey’s Saloon & Oyster Bar in Annapolis.

The Old Brogue, a pub in Great Falls, began ordering weekly shipments from Lobster Maine-ia about a month ago. Demand has been so steady that the restaurant began hosting lobster nights every Tuesday.

“Everybody loves it,” said Carmelita Wiliams, a manager at the restaurant.

Last Tuesday, Old Brogue had sold 20 lobsters by 7:30 p.m.

“This has turned out to be very popular and cost-effective for us,” Williams said.

Other restaurants, like Piero’s Corner in Herndon, say they routinely sell 50 lobsters in an evening.

“They go really fast,” owner Carmela Mazzi said. “Lobster is not officially on our menu, but we’re featuring it all summer long.”

On the weekends, Lobster Maine-ia’s Chantilly warehouse is open to the public. The Kennas’ seven children, who range in age from 11 to 22, help handle inventory, fill orders and work the cash registers.

“Freshness is very important,” said Nick Kenna, 19. “Our goal is to never sell lobsters that are more than five days out of their natural water.”

The company says it expects to bring in about $300,000 in revenue this year.

Ray, who also has a drywall and paint business, said he has been able to keep overhead costs low by using the same warehouse for both companies. Aside from a $20,000 lobster tank, he said start-up expenses have been minimal.

“We were lucky in that we didn’t have to put in a lot of money up front,” he said. “We just made a lot of cold calls and put up a lot of fliers.”

The challenge, Ray said, will be to keep that momentum going once summer winds down.

To offset potential drops in demand, Ray has begun organizing fundraisers for area schools and sports leagues, such as the McLean Youth Lacrosse and Brookfield Swim Club.

“The good thing is that our customer base is still really small compared to what’s out there,” he said. “There’s a lot of room to grow.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
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