Chatting With Luke Holden: The Perfect Storm, Parallels Between Finance and Restaurants, and Live Lobsters at the New Luke’s


Last Friday, we chatted with Luke Holden, the eponymous founder of Luke’s Lobster. Holden spoke with us about opening the second incarnation of his lobster shack on the Upper East Side, Maine pride, and $30 lobster rolls. Today, he expounds up the parallels between the finance and restaurant industries, his time working with the crew of the Andrea Gail, and what to expect at his new restaurant.

I read somewhere that when you were growing up, you spent some time with the Andrea Gail crew, who were immortalized in The Perfect Storm.

I did. The crew was working the Hannah Boden, the [Andrea Gail’s] sister ship. It was off-season so they were off the coast catching Jonah crabs. I got in trouble — I don’t know if it was in school or summer day camp — but my penalty was that I had to go work with my father. I spent the whole day on the wharf. My dad said he’d give me 20 bucks if I worked with crabbers pulling crabs out of the tank. It was a pretty memorable experience; I wrote my college essay on it. The whole crew was pretty rough: I was eight hours down in the cell with these guys and they didn’t say a word the whole time.

Did you see the movie?

I read the book and then watched the movie. I’ve seen it 10 times.

After college you went to work as an investment banker. Did you ever think you’d end up in the restaurant business?

No. No chance. That was totally an unforeseeable occurrence. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and start my own business, but I never guessed it would be now.

What made you jump?

It was a multitude of factors. I started thinking about entrepreneurial options after the financial turmoil at the end of 2008. I was lucky enough to hold on to a position, but didn’t know what would come of that. I started brainstorming. My father had a bit of extra time because his business was slow with the economy suffering. We started bouncing ideas off each other, and went around looking at the competition. There was an opportunity to make something like this work — a higher quality product at half the price. Also, rents were 50 percent off of what they were in 2007.

How did you financial world colleagues react when you decided to leave to work at the restaurant full-time?

They were mixed. On a professional basis they were disappointed; after your third year of being an analyst is when you become more of a revenue producer. There’s a lot of time, training, and money they put into you. So on a professional level, they were kind of disappointed, but on a personal level they were very supportive. They appreciated my time there: I gave them 110 percent every minute I was there. Their only reservation was, “You only have three years of practical business experience — this may be a little early to go out on your own.”

Are there any parallels to working in finance and working in restaurants?

The biggest parallel would be enhancing your problem-solving skills. I had the opportunity to work with smart folks every day. We’d get enough work to keep 100 people busy, but if you really focused on the task at hand you could be effective. I think a lot of times opening a restaurant can be extremely overwhelming, so creating a way to synthesize all the problems into a way that’s manageable helps. And I did get a lot of financial knowledge, which helped.

Which has longer hours, finance or restaurants?

Since leaving two weeks ago I’ve probably put more hours into the Luke’s Lobster concept, but they’re good hours. I really care about it; I’m passionate about it. With banking hours, it’s tough — you’re often there doing an exercise you know isn’t going to pan out. It’s challenging; there are different motives in banking. I would say that banking hours are more difficult.

Between your regular job and opening the restaurant, did you ever find time to sleep?

What I was doing really wasn’t sustainable from a personal level; I didn’t sleep very much at all…I will add that being out and opening a restaurant enables you to meet a lot of really interesting people. That’s been really enjoyable; those creative minds are fun for me to interact with. It doesn’t seem like work; this is where my interests are. There are a lot of great personalities on 7th Street — Jen London at Xoom, Linda [Lea] and Maria [Baugh] at Butter Lane, MaribeI [Araujo] at Caracas, Matt [Lindemulder] and Sara [Jenkins] at Porchetta are always there if we have any type of questions. Those have been the local people who’ve embraced us because they get the bigger picture. They don’t see us as competitors.

Will your new space on the Upper East Side allow you to branch out at all with your menu?

My family’s always had a great recipe for batter for fried clams and shrimp, so we’re going to bring that to New York pretty soon. It’s just a matter of integrating that into our kitchen…And we’ll have the ability to have the full range of soups and ice cream year round because the space is a little bit bigger. We might get more creative with allowing people to order live lobster in advance to cook at home.

Any restaurants you’ve been to lately that you like?

Sintir on 9th Street between First and A. It’s a Moroccan restaurant. The guy who owns it is a world-class sintir player, so they’ll have music and it’s really good fun.

Read any good books or seen any movies lately?

I’m not a huge reader by nature and just unfortunately haven’t had time to dig into a good book lately. But I saw a movie this past weekend — what was the name? The Losers. It was not memorable.

Sounds like it lived up to the title.

[Laughs] You can totally say that.