Born and raised in Maine: A lot of pride comes with that phrase, but Jim traded in his Maine ID and became what we people in the northeast refer to as a Masshole. After attending The College of The Holy Cross and playing Division I hockey, Jim moved to Boston’s North End where he got to experience what New Englanders love most: Bruins, Patriots and Red Sox.
To support his lifestyle of late night pizza purchases and collection of boldly colored shirts and pants, Jim sold medical devices before co-founding Cousins Maine Lobster in 2012.
Now living in Los Angeles, Jimmy travels to Maine often to get back to his roots of pond hockey, island hopping or lobster boat races and to spend time with those he loves most- his mother, father, sister and black lab.
Sabin’s blood type is Maine Positive, but further analysis shows traces of California in his system. His mother is a true Mainer and while Sabin was born in San Diego, California– automatic disqualification of Mainer status– he tore up the basketball court and soccer field at Scarborough High School, outside Portland, Maine.
Young Sabin spent most of the 90’s terrorizing Southern Maine with hair gelled à la Ross from Friends, battling an allergy to sleeves and sneaking out after curfew. With the good guidance of his Big Brother of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Sabin headed off to New York to study drama in college.
After college, Sabin moved West, acting his way to a career in Real Estate before co-founding Cousins Maine Lobster in 2012.
The early days of Cousins Maine Lobster are very similar to those of Apple or Facebook, in that they were founded by men in California. In 2011, as Father Winter vomited snow on Boston, Jim made the trek out to Los Angeles to visit Sabin, for some vitamin D and to reconnect with Sabin. Over an afternoon of playing NHL ‘94, a game they began playing in Maine when it was released and still played on a daily basis in the CML offices 20 years later, the Cousins discussed business opportunities.
They talked childhood, huge pots boiling in the backyard, running around with buttery ears of corn (pronounced “Kahn”) and picnic tables built for 8 seating 10 messy, bibbed kids elbows deep in a steaming hot lobster. They talked about the burgeoning Food Truck industry that was taking over the LA food scene, bringing delicious, unconventional cuisines to the masses cheaply and efficiently. After surveying the landscape, they realized that LA was missing those tasty Maine traditions they fawned over. They decided to pool their savings and launch a food truck that celebrated Maine and served the bounty of their state the only way they knew it: fresh.
Cousins Maine Lobster 1.0: Truck Launch
The beginning was chaotic and confusing, yet promising and exciting. In 2012 when we opened, we had one truck, a small staff and very little restaurant experience. Thankfully, we had passion and an amazing product. From day one, we experienced lines of 50 to 60 people, which we were grateful for and humbled by.
Our one little truck produced amazing sales during its first few months, providing a real opportunity that we had to acknowledge. With very little means, we built one truck, hired a small staff and created a culture and brand that customers gravitated to. The result was increased demand, more sales and a potential to expand our business. But before we had the chance to scale and put another truck on the road, we appeared on ABC’s hit show, Shark Tank
Shark Tank producers had been part of the many customers that heard about our store, tried our food and seen the craze. Although we did not know it at the time, they had been regular patrons at our truck in the very early weeks. We were asked by the producers to go through the process of being on the show. With less than a month’s worth of sales under our belt, a very youthful company, with no proven sales and a complete unknown of the business, we actually turned down the show… not once, but twice. (We know… crazy.) As we gained a couple months of business, the opportunity to get on Shark Tank never truly disappeared. And with a bit more confidence as time went on and a helpful call from an executive producer, we thought that all of the stars were aligning and finally took the plunge.
It was a very nerve-wracking hour-plus shoot in front of some high-profile Sharks. However, we were very confident, because we knew our business inside and out, prepared for the show and what questions might come our way, and went into it with a fair assessment of our business.
We targeted Barbara from the beginning as we had done our research on her, how she works with businesses and that fact that she had invested in many other food brands. And at the end of the wild ride in the Tank, we came out hand in hand with Barb. Since that day, we have nothing but amazing things to say about Barbara and Shark Tank. We had a platform to share our story and business, one that opened so many doors and continues to lead to business opportunities we otherwise would not have had. Barb has been a mentor and business partner that we could not ask any more of. Beyond putting Cousins Maine Lobster in the spotlight, presenting new marketing options, sharing savvy business advice and growth ideas, she has become a close friend of our family and ours.
Cousins Maine Lobster 2.0: California and Beyond.
After the show we got back to growing and expanding our business. In the next year and a half we added 3 more trucks in Los Angeles, which increased our revenues and of course demanded a more robust infrastructure. Hiring the right team members, implementing the most efficient systems and growing our relationships back home in Maine were all main focal points as we grew our brand in Cali.
We also spent a great deal of time after Shark Tank fine tuning and marketing our Ecommerce business. At the time, that was the “beyond” part. We had our amazing food trucks in Southern California, but we wanted people all over the country to be able to taste our Maine lobster delicacies. With this in mind, we really wanted to promote our shore to door business, which allows customers to order our lobster from our facility in Maine, directly to their home. We ship live lobsters, fresh lobster meat, crab cakes, lobster cakes, steaks and shrimp. We used family recipes to make lobster pot pies and lobster mac and cheese, so that customers throughout the country could taste the Maine lobster dishes we grew up with.
This part of the business has been a real passion project, as there is always people wanting lobster, its just been a matter of letting them know we exist. Our intent for our food items has always been to focus on quality and portions, so that customers are happy. After all, it is not a cheap purchase!
... way, way beyond!
And now here we are, some four years into our business, and we continue to care as much as we did on day one. We have 20 trucks in 13 cities throughout the country. We are the Franchisor to some amazing, talented and hungry Franchisees, and have the same core of hard working, dedicated and loyal employees in LA. Our company in its entirety support more than 100 employees and we value them all as much as we did when we didn’t know how to butter and grill a roll. It has been a wild ride, growing from one truck four years ago, to experiencing one of the greatest thrills of Shark Tank, and then growing our business with the franchise model. In fact, we are now franchising Brick and Mortars, which will be the next chapter to unfold in our Cousins Maine Lobster playbook.
We still learn something new every day, continue to have humility that keeps us grounded, and also have grown that ‘muscle’ that all business owners and brand ambassadors must have. You know what we are talking about, and if you don’t, maybe you are in the middle of building your own. We have experienced ups and downs: major obstacles that didn’t show the light of day and victories that made us feel like we sat atop the world. We have continued to value the same core principles from the beginning, focusing on quality, service, and our story to provide customers happiness through food and care.
We often stop along the way, as we get deeper in this journey, to turn around and look back. To remember where we came from and who helped us get here. Most often times, for us, that has always led to our family. Don’t forget to turn around, show your gratitude, admire what you have done, and thank those people and places that have led you to where you are.