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Newport Lobster Shack

The Challenge

Fishermen’s ability to sell what they catch is becoming increasingly limited. They are prohibited from selling directly to restaurants and can only sell to the general public with an optional fishing license endorsement from the state. As a result, it’s making their business difficult in an already challenging environment. Diminished infrastructure and access to the city’s waterfront, as well as lack of public awareness, also hurts those fishermen who persevere.

The Approach

To give local fishermen the opportunity to grow their businesses by selling to the general public, the Newport Lobster Shack formed a co-op and established a seasonal restaurant in trailers on Newport’s State Pier 9. It sells lobster, crab, squid and fish landed on adjacent docks caught by its members, connects consumers with the men and women harvesting from the local ecosystem and provides a steady source of income to fishermen May through October.

By The Numbers

  • Newport Lobster Shack secured 30 fishermen co-op members to open in 2010. It is limited by dock space and cannot add any more.
  • By the end of 2011, it had doubled its initial facility (a wooden shack) and by 2015 it quadrupled its capacity, adding two mobile trailers to accommodate food storage and prep, added twin containers for lobster tanks and an outside pavilion for picnic table seating.
  • It has seen a 10% growth rate year over year.
  • It has grown from 4 restaurant employees at its beginning to 25 in 2019, with an annual payroll of $140,000.
  • It buys 125,000 lb of local lobster, crab, squid and fish each year, up from 25,000 lb. in 2012.
  • It signed a 20-year lease for State Pier 9 in 2018.
  • It had 31,000 sales in 2018, up from 3,000 sales in 2011.
  • It sells 1,000 meals on a busy summer weekend
  • It works with 9 local food businesses, including Calise Bakery, Belmont Fruit, Toppa’s Food Service and Eastern Ice.

Enhance Climate for Food and Beverage Businesses

The Newport Lobster Shack is leveraging its collective power as a co-op with the appeal of local seafood to expand opportunities for local fishermen to sell their fresh catch.

Program Description

The Newport Lobster Shack is expanding the sales potential for local fishermen, and supplements the commercial fishing climate in Newport County.

  • Through its free optional co-op, Newport Lobster Shack has expanded the business potential of 30 Newport County fishermen, helping them survive and be more profitable in a difficult climate
  • It has established a seasonal restaurant at State Pier 9, which has become an anchor on the waterfront and a destination for 31,000 seafood lovers in 2018.
  • It has strengthened its menu with additions like fish and chips and calamari, and also offers shipping service, which allows them to buy more from the participating fishermen.
  • The 125,000 lb of seafood it purchases each year from local fishermen has provided additional financial benefits for its coop members.
  • Its 20-year lease now establishes permanence on State Pier 9 without relying exclusively on its state endorsement.

Future Plans

As the Newport Lobster Shack gains popularity, its strengthened presence is an insurance policy. It ensures the pier will remain dedicated to commercial fishing, that commercial fishing will persist in Newport Harbor and that fresh local seafood is still available. To further this mission, Newport Lobster Shack will embark on a strategic plan in the next two years to assess its growth potential. It is run by fishermen, so for it to grow further, it will seek professional management assistance.

Part of that strategic plan will be to assess its viability as a potential brick-and-mortar establishment. It needs more data and services to do this, a more extensive menu, additional table space, and the ability to serve deeper into the shoulder seasons.
This Rhode Island Story was prepared by Annie Sherman.