Beal’s Lobster Pier turns 90 this summer. Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine sat down with co-owner Stuart Snyder to discuss the past, present and future of Southwest Harbor, Maine.
What Harvard Beal founded in 1932 as a wholesale fish market has become a must-see waterfront destination and dining experience. In 1969, the third generation of the family opened a restaurant: Beal’s Lobster Pier.
In 2014, Snyder and Russ Bernard purchased Beal’s from Mary Beal, the widow of third-generation owner Sam Beal. The two, long-time patrons of Maine and Beal, have not only retained the essence of the restaurant while expanding the menu and service, but have also taken the brand nationally. They created “Beal’s at Home”, a direct-to-consumer service, shipping its lobsters through its website and through Goldbelly.
What is Beal’s story? Why do you think he survived so long?
Since our first year of operation in 1932, Beal’s Lobster Pier has remained a year-round fishing and lobster pier. If you drive by Clark Point Road in Southwest Harbor today, you’ll find many of the same authentic Maine fishing scenes you would have seen 90 years ago – fishermen splicing lines, tying boats and pulling nets and traps filled with the freshest seafood around.
After years of success as a wholesale operation, the Beal family opened Beal’s Lobster Pier Restaurant in 1969 and our vision remains the same today as it was then: to serve the finest seafood. fresh and provide our guests with the most authentic Maine experience at the doorstep. from the waterfront that makes it all possible.
In nine decades, Beal’s Lobster Pier, which has become one of Maine’s top food and waterfront destinations for the more than 3.5 million people who visit Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park .
We’ve been around for approximately 90 years thanks to our loyal customers who return year after year, our great seafood, the iconic brand we’ve built over the decades, our exceptional staff who focus on customer service customers and the Beal family. To this day, we still have a family member working in the restaurant. (Snyder regularly hosts diners every day, his nephew Justin is Dock Manager, Mary Beal’s granddaughter Emma is a key member of the restaurant team.)
What does the brand’s pandemic experience look like? How did Beal pivot?
The pandemic has affected Beal’s like other restaurants. We have dropped more than 60% of our revenue and we have implemented preventive measures for our customers and staff, such as everyone wearing masks, installing plexiglass, reducing the number of tables to ensure great distancing social and more.
For this reason, we have focused more on our Direct to Consumer (shipping) and takeaway business. Our shipping business has grown significantly, and with our increased focus on the take-out part of our business, we have been able to survive. Our indoor dining business began to improve in August 2019 as more people began to feel comfortable traveling, especially within driving distance.
What are the main challenges and benefits of being a seasonal business?
I would say labor is the biggest challenge in our region due to the small competitive labor pool. Moreover, since a seasonal business only has a limited time to generate revenue and profit, it needs the cooperation of weather and visitors. My rule of thumb for us is that since we have a short season, we have to be better every day and make every day count.
In your opinion, what are the keys to the success of a restaurant?
I can only speak for us and I’m relatively new at eight years old. I would say the focus should be on the consumer experience. From the minute they walk in until they leave, it’s our responsibility to make them comfortable and happy. Obviously, there has to be good food and good value and for us, we make sure that our team understands both and that each of them plays a role in achieving these goals.
What mistake did you make along the way and how did you bounce back?
Too many to mention. There isn’t a dramatic one that stands out, but I can say that we learned from each of them and moved on. I believe there are no mistakes or things that didn’t work, that you don’t take enough risks or try new things.
Food prices are rising everywhere, how can you cope with such an expensive commodity as lobster? How can customers feel that they have received value?
You’re right, food prices have gone up and we’re on a high with lobster, however, we believe lobster prices will start to come down as we move through the season, especially with the arrival of new soft-shell lobsters. We try to explain seafood and lobster prices to customers. Because the price of lobster is high right now, we offer our same excellent Beal’s Famous Lobster Rolls in junior sizes. The guests were very understanding.
What do you think is the lasting appeal of a lobster roll?
I believe that’s the special thing about lobster, the way our freshly picked lobster meat can be prepared, like our traditional with hot ass, classic with light mayo, Garlic Lovah’s with our garlic butt, Spicy Buffalo with a touch of buffalo sauce and our Fried Roll made with a lobster meat friend in our special homemade batter. Everyone has their own way of wanting it, but believe that lobster is perfect for summers and special occasions.
What are your plans for the future of Beal’s?
We continue to do what we do now, take great care of our customers whether they are first time visitors or return customers, of which we have many. We are expanding our private party segment of our business while placing more emphasis on direct to consumer. We look forward to more Beal branded products, food trucks and more locations in the future. (The company recently purchased the Log Cabin restaurant location on Mt. Desert Island with an expected opening in 2023.)