SOUTH PORTLAND – Sabin Lomac moved to Los Angeles 10 years ago, as many do, to start a career as an actor. He appeared in various plays, soap operas and TV shows, but a decade after his move to the west coast, the co-founder of Cousins Maine Lobster has become a mini-celebrity not because of his acting credits, but because of his lobster rolls.
Lomac, a Scarborough native, 32, and his cousin Jim Tselikis, 29, from Cape Elizabeth, started Cousins Maine Lobster last April, hoping to take advantage of Hollywood’s budding food truck culture. A year later, the cousins have added a brick-and-mortar location, a second food truck and an online shipping business after appearances on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” “Good Morning America” and “The Chew.”
The cousins’ first appearance on “Shark Tank,” a show that features entrepreneurs pitching business plans to a panel of wealthy investors, came two months after the food truck had opened. One of those investors, real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, put $55,000 into the company in exchange for a 15 percent share.
Tselikis said Corcoran’s effect on the company goes beyond money.
“We learn from her and she offers a lot of good insight into some things we didn’t know about, and beyond that, her connections and networks she has, the ability to bring the national spotlight, that really helps grow a brand. You can’t put a price to that,” Tselikis said.
The “Shark Tank” episode aired in October, less than a month after Tselikis and Lomac opened their first brick-and-mortar location in Pasadena, Calif. That fall, the cousins also launched their online business, in which customers can have lobster rolls, lobster macaroni and cheese, bisque or live lobster shipped to their door.
Lomac said the expansion came after the cousins heard feedback from people outside California who wanted to try the same Maine lobster experience offered in Los Angeles.
“If your mom lives in Kansas, she can have our food tomorrow,” Lomac said.
In their most recent TV appearance, Tselikis, Lomac and Corcoran appeared May 13 on ABC’s “The Chew,” a daytime cooking show with celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Michael Symon. The cousins said the growing popularity of cooking shows and increasing celebrity of chefs has helped their business, but they don’t consider themselves among that group quite yet.
“Not that we’re world-renowned chefs, but we’re very proud of our product. Seeing us alongside (Batali and Symon) definitely adds some validity. People have been flocking,” Lomac said.
Tselikis agreed the national attention has helped, but said the cousins have kept the focus on their lobster rather than themselves when the cameras are on.
“It’s exciting to be in that spotlight and get these opportunities. We’re Maine guys, and the one thing we like to pump out is we’re proud of our state and proud of what we serve,” he said.
The idea for Cousins Maine Lobster came about when Tselikis traveled from Massachusetts to visit Lomac in California.
“When you’re out in LA, you can’t help but notice the crazy market that is the food trucks; it’s really big business. We didn’t talk about it at the time, it’s one of the things we just saw,” Lomac said.
Tselikis called his cousin after he returned to the east coast with the idea for Cousins Maine Lobster. Through Twitter and Facebook marketing, the cousins built a business with long lines and a devoted following which they brought to the panel on “Shark Tank” in the summer.
Now, the cousins are focusing on expanding all three areas of their business in different ways. Online sales have grown steadily and spiked with each TV appearance, but it doesn’t offer the short-term profit opportunity of putting the food truck in a central location on a sunny California afternoon. Meanwhile, Lomac and Tselikis continue to pursue franchising opportunities to expand the brick-and-mortar restaurant business.
As rapid growth of the business continues, Lomac said it’s sometimes difficult to keep their perspective, but he and Tselikis are enjoying the ride.
“A lot of times Jimmy and I are so busy, we don’t take a step back to look at what’s happening, but what’s going on is really insane,” Lomac said.
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