What began as 400,000 pounds of lobster purchased by Linda Bean off the St. George peninsula eight years ago has grown into a sprawling empire selling more than 9 million pounds of lobster since its inception.
“It’s a very interesting business,” said Bean, 73, now a passionate leader in the Maine lobster industry.
“I’ve always lived in Maine, and I admire the industry because it touches so many jobs – and not just those on the water. It’s huge,” said Bean, who admits that she has little free time because of her demanding work schedule.
Bean, granddaughter of L.L. Bean’s founder, Leon Leonwood Bean, said when her career in the industry started, the total volume of lobster in Maine was 68 million pounds, and every year, the supply increases. Now, the supply is about 125 million pounds.
“Predators, like cod, have been over fished which has allowed the lobsters to flourish,” said Bean, who bought Bay Lobster Co. in Port Clyde from longtime owner David Larson Albano in 2007 after years of admiring the picturesque wharfs.
Sourced directly from small Maine fishing boats, Bean’s lobsters are the focal point of her business, Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster, which includes seven restaurants in Maine, two storage, grading and distribution plants, and a 23,000-square-foot processing plant in Rockland.
Her chain of restaurants include Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen and Topside Tavern in Freeport, across from the L.L. Bean flagship store, Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster at the Portland International Jetport, the Lobster Boat Cafe at the Maine Mall in South Portland, and seasonal restaurants in Port Clyde.
In 2008 she began marketing and selling her Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster Roll, which features a light mayo mixed with her own blend of herbs and spices. By 2013, more than 1 million of her lobster rolls were sold at her various cafe and restaurant locations. Her products, including frozen cooked lobster claws, are packaged and sold in grocery and department store chains across the country, such as Wal-Mart and Shaw’s.
But her success in Maine’s most valuable industry has not come without controversy. In September 2013, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked for animal cruelty charges to be filed against Bean’s processing plant after PETA released a video showing Bean’s employees tearing apart live crustaceans, a method it found inhumane. Because the animal cruelty law does not address invertebrate species, like lobsters, she did not get prosecuted for her lobster-processing method.
“It is considered different as an animal in terms of its ability to feel pain,” Bean said of lobsters. “There’s a big support and understanding among people in Maine about lobster and all the jobs it affects.
“No other lobster dealer was cited,” Bean added. “Why did (PETA) just pick on me? I am not the only one with a lobster business in Maine.”
Bean’s business also offers services that “are not necessarily lobster,” she said, such as vacation rentals, a wedding program, lodging and catering. She also owns four wharves and a buying station in Vinalhaven, two general stores in St. George, and operates Wyeths by Water art tours from her lobster boat, “Linderin Losh,” in Port Clyde.
Calling the lobster industry “generally a man’s world,” Bean, a mother of three sons, the oldest now 50, admits she didn’t know much about lobster when she first entered the industry. But she did know a thing or two about marketing her business, she said.
She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Antioch College and a degree in ecology from Alaska Methodist University, and serves on the L.L. Bean board of directors. Though she was unable to win a seat in either election, Bean, a Republican, sought the 1st District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1988 and 1992.
“I’ve always had an interest in public policy,” Bean said.
Bean spoke recently with Maine Women about how her career in the lobster industry began and what it takes to succeed in the business.
Q: How did you get into the lobster industry?
A: A neighbor in Port Clyde wanted to retire and offered me his business. He agreed to stay on a year to teach me how to carry it on. I bought 400,000 pounds (of lobster) at his former wharf that first year, 2007. He owned the pound for over 20 years, and I admired the real estate. Nine years earlier I had visited with him to ask him, if he ever sold the place, if he would call me – and he did. I really wasn’t expecting that I would go into the lobster business. We talked about it for a few weeks, and I decided that I’d like to try it if he was willing to teach me.
Q: Did you have a mentor or an individual that was helpful to you?
A: The former owner, David Larson Albano, who was taught by his aunt, Virginia Larson, of the Atwood Lobster family. He worked through a whole 12-month cycle to train me on what happens from month to month and what to expect, including lobster pounding. He taught me not only the buying part, but also how to do bookkeeping, how to keep track of the bait, etc. There’s quite a bit of paperwork in addition to coming up with the prices, buying the lobsters and figuring out where they are going to go.
Q: What does it take to succeed in your field?
A: A ready access to working capital to get you by the seasonality of the catch, and to grow the business. I’ve taken that first 400,000-pound year and grown it beyond the first location each year to the present 9 million pounds purchased off the boats and docks of Maine licensed lobstermen. I also grade lobsters in two facilities now, overnight ship live lobsters throughout the U.S., and process my own soft-shelled lobsters, something I added to our activity and job building.
Q: What advice would you offer to women interested in your line of work?
A: Daily prayer and a discipline of forgiveness. Have people close to you who are loyal, hardworking and generally have a happy, well-adjusted outlook.
Q: What is the most meaningful part of your work?
A: Keeping our coastal fishing families happy on the water with fair daily pay and watching their children and grandchildren eager and able to follow in their footsteps.