NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A Maine-centric casual restaurant opened in Wilmington recently with a menu focusing on, you guessed it: lobster rolls.
Tuesday, Bill Irwin served a customer with lobsters on his shirt (a coincidence, the customer said). Last week, it was two customers who arrived separately but happened to share the same best friend from Maine.
“It’s a lot of storytelling,” Irwin, The Maine Lobster Company’s owner, said. “That’s what I aim for. A comfortable place where people can talk.”
With a menu comprised of nine main items, owners Bill and Monica Irwin aimed to make their new spot as authentic and simple as possible.
Fresh off Route One
Bill Irwin’s goal was to make a lobster roll indistinguishable from those offered in lobster shacks off Route One in Wiscasset. At $24 for a 6 oz. warm Stonington, it’s a couple dollars cheaper too, Irwin said.
For months, the business prepared to open while a “opening soon” banner remained draped outside the unassuming Carolina Beach Road strip mall. When he opened, Irwin simply removed the banner, and customers found their way in. With no social media post, no advertisements, and no announcement, Irwin came close to running out of lobster during his first few days of business mid-December.
Every weekday, lobster meat caught and pre-cooked by Stonington-based Greenhead Lobster is overnighted to the Wilmington store.
The blue claw depicted in the store’s logo draws a lot of questions, Irwin said (“Shouldn’t that be red?”). Lobstermen have just a one-in-two-million chance of catching a blue lobster. Irwin hopes the logo invokes a specialty experience.
Plenty of customers who have stopped in so far had no idea what a lobster roll was, Irwin said. But for those hailing from New England, customers will recognize several Maine staples. Moxie, New England’s funky root beer and official state treat, will always be available. This week, Irwin’s distributor flagged his order as a mistake and received a “no one sells that much Moxie” email. The Maine Lobster Roll Company also sells plenty of whoopie pies — also an official state snack.
Then there’s BLTs, PB&Js, grilled cheese and fluffernutters. “I don’t call that the kid’s menu. I call that the: For people who got dragged along because someone else wanted a lobster roll,” Irwin said.
The Irwins wound up in Wilmington by basically throwing a dart on a map. On a drive back to Maine from Florida, the family decided to take a detour to visit Wilmington. During the first ride over the Cape Fear Memorial, Irwin said his wife knew they’d move. So they did, with no jobs and knowing no one. It’s been seven years, but Irwin said he wishes they made the move sooner.
Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee Still at email@example.com