Here’s Why a New York Lobster Roll (with Fries!) Costs $32

New York City hasn’t always been a lobster roll town.

Fifteen years ago, Ms. Povich decided to change that. She first learned to love lobster in the backyard of her grandparents’ house in Maine, which had a kosher kitchen but a cordoned-off outdoor area so the family could indulge in seafood.

She and her husband, Ralph, started out selling whole lobsters out of a building they purchased in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Soon after, he drove seven hours to Maine several times a week to bring back fresh lobster meat and split-top buns, which the couple said are much better suited to a lobster roll than the version split on the side, the only one at the time. available in New York.

They have built a thriving business and a reputation for being a great place to relax on a summer Saturday afternoon.

The pandemic has changed everything at the Red Hook Lobster Pound. Prices soared across the board, and by mid-2022, Ms. Povich felt she had no choice but to raise the price of her signature item, a lobster roll and fries.

These days, the business seems precarious. The restaurant is open year-round, but the lobster rolls are a real treat in warm weather, and fewer people came to Red Hook this summer, a particularly rainy and humid season. Sales are down for the first time in years, Ms. Povich said, and winter is approaching.

Povich maintains close relationships with her lobster suppliers and says she gets the best deal possible for the highest quality meat. She is not willing to downgrade her very good frozen fries in favor of barely average fries. But she has already made some concessions to an economy that has hurt the city’s restaurants.

She stopped offering free coleslaw with a lobster roll, after seeing too many customers throw it away with their trash.

She replaced porcelain plates with aluminum pie plates, which were better suited to outdoor dining and required less water and labor to clean.

And the $25 Wednesday night lobster dinner, popular with locals and loyal customers, is on hold when the price of lobster rises.

But some costs cannot be avoided.

Sometimes a lobster claw falls to the ground and has to be thrown away, which is especially painful when each ounce costs $2.50.

It costs nearly $400 a month to run the website and another $450 to list the restaurant on the Resy reservation service. Ms. Povich accepted that she will continue to lose money on Seamless, the food delivery service, where a lobster roll and fries costs $44.77 – and the restaurant makes $24.75.

Two customers recently used fake credit cards to place online orders, she said, so the restaurant had to absorb those few hundred dollars. But staying on delivery apps could attract new customers, so it seems too risky to stop.

Then there’s the almost constant cycle of repairs and maintenance, the 3 percent credit card fees that total about $73,000 a year and even the liability insurance policy that provides that a customer with a wobbly molar who breaks a tooth on a lobster roll gets $5,000 worth of dental work covered by the restaurant, no questions asked.

And complaints about pricing began to pour in. Customers almost never say anything in person. But on Yelp or Google Reviews, the complaints she sees are constant: There’s not enough lobster to justify the price. Ms. Povich doesn’t see a way to reduce costs without cutting corners.

She just wants New Yorkers struggling with rent, heating bills and groceries to understand that she faces the same problems, in the same unaffordable city.

Still, Ms. Povich said, “I’d rather people complain about my prices than my food.” »

Produced by Eden Weingart, Eve Edelheit and Dagny Salas. Development by Gabriel Gianordoli And Aliza Aufrichtig.