Alumni Spotlight: Luke Holden, Founder and CEO of Luke’s Lobster
Interview by Alannah Nathan, SFS ‘24 & Common Home Editor
Our Alumni Spotlight series elevates alumni voices in the environmental field and shares their inspiring stories. Hundreds of Hoyas within the vast network of Georgetown alumni are working toward a greener future – leading critical projects in wildlife conservation, sustainable business, ecological research, and other vital efforts.
Luke Holden graduated from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business (MSB) in 2007 with a B.S. in Finance and Management. After a brief stint on Wall Street, Mainer Holden turned his childhood passion for fishing and lobster into a successful restaurant chain, Luke’s Lobster. Luke’s Lobster is now a leading fast casual lobster restaurant with locations in ten US states, Japan, and Singapore. We recently sat down with Luke to discuss his journey from student to CEO, sustainability in the seafood industry, the company’s social initiatives, and the future of Luke’s Lobster.
Thank you so much for being part of this Common Home piece. We’d love to know what motivated you to pivot from Wall Street to founding Luke’s Lobster. Was sustainability an important part of your initial vision for Luke’s Lobster, even back in 2009?
I initially was motivated by the desire to bring great lobster rolls to NYC, at a price point that was accessible. I was excited to showcase the highest quality lobster meat prepared in a really simple way, with the help of my dad who had at that point been in the industry for decades already. It was important to me to source high-quality, sustainable lobster then, and is still important to me to this day, if not more so. I love taking my three young daughters out lobstering as much as possible in the summer, just as I did growing up, and it’s crucial that we continue to do everything we can to sustain this industry so we can continue on for the next generation and many more to come.
Can you share about Luke’s Lobster Seafood Co.’s impressive commitment to serving 100% traceable seafood in your restaurants? How rare is traceability across the seafood supply chain in your industry? Why is it important both for restaurants and customers?
The seafood industry isn’t known for transparency, so it was that much more important for me to make that a priority in our business from day one. It’s important that restaurants know where their food is coming from in order to ensure quality, but also for everyone across the food chain to know the people who are harvesting the food. We try to pass this along to the customer every chance we get and to showcase the real people who not only are catching their seafood but who are hand picking it and preparing it, many of whom have worked with my family for decades.
Reading through a few of your past interviews, it’s clear that the well-being of the people who support Luke’s Lobster – from the Maine lobstermen you source your product from to your restaurant’s customers – is important to you and the company’s overall sustainability strategy. Luke’s Lobster has several admirable social initiatives – I’d love to know more about the Lift All Boats Project, for example. Are there any specific success stories you can speak to?
The well-being of people who support Luke’s is extremely important, as is the well-being of our team who work every day to fulfill our commitment to serving high-quality, sustainable seafood. The Lift All Boats Project is an educational project that came about last year, in an effort to increase access to the lobster industry for marginalized folks who may not have the generational access that is a typical entry point to the lobster industry. We’re in year two, and we have 18 students enrolled compared to last year’s four students, with two students returning, so I’d say that we are proud of that success. It’s been incredible to see our returning students Joshua and Christian become leaders and to see them show new students how to haul a trap or tie a knot. This is really what this project is all about.
Luke’s Lobster is a B Corp-certified business and, impressively, the highest-scoring restaurant group and seafood company in America! From a consumer standpoint, a B Corp certification is a clear indication of a company’s commitment to sustainability. What role does being a B Corp certified business play on the recipient’s end? Does the B Corp status act as a guiding light, if you will, of your sustainability strategy?
From our point of view, this certification allows us to tell our guests that we put social and environmental good over profit. It’s a simple way to get that message across to the consumer, but it also guides us in many decisions that we make daily, from choosing which vendor to buy merchandise from, to determining what kind of Limited Time Offer promotion we’ll sell in our shacks.
Looking ahead, are there certain sustainability goals or initiatives Luke’s Lobster has set to achieve or expand on that you’d be willing to share with us?
We are constantly looking to improve our own carbon footprint, and while we’ve done the work of measuring our carbon footprint and taken steps like buying 100% renewable energy in every Luke’s property that we own, installing solar panels on our lobster buy station in Portland and more, we’re constantly looking to make improvements within our reach. We work with partner wharves to encourage them to install their own on-site solar, we’re working to begin trials of electric boat engines at wharves around Maine, and we’re continuing to innovate more ways to utilize the full lobster from antenna to tail.
While I’d imagine that all components of a sustainable food system merit more attention than they’re currently receiving, if you had to pick one area that you believe isn’t focused on enough, what would it be?
I’d love to see more light shed on the relatively low carbon footprint of lobster and seafood in general. There’s been a lot of media attention surrounding the carbon footprint of beef and chicken, but lobster emits just 2.89 pounds of greenhouse gas per pound of lobster sourced, which is even less than eggs and coffee (beef comes in at 60 lbs of emissions per pound of protein)!