MacKinnon’s Lobster Pound Ltd.
MacKinnon’s Lobster Pound Ltd. (Lobster on the Wharf) has been a landmark in beautiful Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (PEI), for over 30 years. Since the 1980s, the restaurant and market has been serving up freshly caught seafood and welcoming hungry tourists and locals with open arms.
“We started out very small on a waterfront that needed a lot of work,” recalls Jim Larkin, president and owner of Lobster on the Wharf. “I was actually in politics, serving in the PEI legislative assembly. The business opportunity came along and we didn’t know what we were doing at first.”
Luckily, Lobster on the Wharf was already a well-established name in the Charlottetown community. According to Jim, approximately 17 years before he and wife Helen purchased Lobster on the Wharf from Gordon MacKinnon, the original owner had operated a lobster pound on-site.
“It made sense to keep the Lobster on the Wharf name, because it was already accepted and well-known by locals,” shares Jim. “Helen and I purchased the lobster pound in 1981 and five years later, after some lessons learned, we opened the seafood restaurant portion of the business known as Lobster on the Wharf.”
Location, Location, Location
Jim emphasizes the importance of Lobster on the Wharf’s location, not only for the abundance of fresh straight from the Atlantic seafood, but also for sweeping waterfront views that keep customers coming back. “Our advantage is, as they say, ‘location, location, location,’” says Jim. “Our building is positioned half on land and half over the water, and although it has required some construction and renovation over the years, it’s a valuable piece of property. Waterfront like ours is rare in Charlottetown.”
Lobster on the Wharf boasts three large-scale outdoor dining decks, one upstairs and two downstairs, a high-end executive function and meeting room, as well as two downstairs indoor dining rooms. “We have an extensive kitchen area and our dining space is easily 8,000 square feet,” notes Jim.
Every summer, tourists flock to Lobster on the Wharf, unloading from cruise ships docked at the nearby marina. “We get about 70-plus cruise ships that come into town every summer,” shares Jim. “When people walk into the city, we’re the first place they see.”
Lobster on the Wharf currently employs approximately 45 seasonal staff members, as the restaurant is open from May to October. “We have a high retention rate when it comes to employees,” adds Jim. “We have people who’ve been with us for 20 years or more, and that’s saying a lot, especially when you consider the stress level we experience in the busy summer season.”
One-stop Seafood Shop
Along with a dedicated team, Jim and Helen have been running the restaurant portion of Lobster on the Wharf on the edge of the Charlottetown harbour since 1986. What was once just a lobster pound now turns out impressively fresh, flavourful dishes.
From a half-dozen Malpeque oysters to jumbo shrimp cocktail, steamed PEI clams to sea scallop and grilled lobster tail with citrus garlic butter to famous island blue mussels, the best of the Atlantic is at hand. For customers who prefer turf over surf, Lobster on the Wharf also offers everything from New York strip sirloin to fettuccine primavera.
Although Lobster on the Wharf doesn’t get much of a breather dishing up seafood through the summer months, Jim admits the establishment has diversified to combat a sluggish economy. “Our advantage is certainly location, but everyone is competing for the same food dollar, so we’ve added more variety,” he says. “Be it mussels, clams, oysters or quahogs; it’s about what the customer wants because they really drive diversification. We run our seafood market that does everything from takeout meals to shipping wholesale orders all across Canada. We even sell lobster shipment boxes to fishers in the spring. It’s all a part of making the cash register ring.”
Jim adds that Lobster on the Wharf frequently updates its menu based on seasonal ingredient availability. “Our lobster poutine is a popular recent addition and we’ve been doing more lobster tails versus the traditional whole boiled lobster,” he shares. “We’ve also added fish tacos. Most of our menu is up to our head chef, Paul Lucas. He’s wonderful. He’s been with us for eight years and he’s already published two cookbooks, with another pending.”
Although Jim doesn’t see Lobster on the Wharf going anywhere anytime soon, he says he’s ready for a well-deserved retirement. “I’ve been doing this for over 30 years now,” he says. “My wife and I love to travel; we’re planning a trip to South Africa and we’ve been to Ireland, India and New Zealand in the past, but there’s a possibility my son will want to take over the business when the time comes.”
With 2014 around the corner, Jim says Lobster on the Wharf and other local establishments will welcome the 150-year anniversary of PEI, which will hopefully bring in more tourism. “There’s also a brand-new convention centre that opened next door to us,” he adds.
For 33 years Lobster on the Wharf has maintained a steady position at the top of the seafood chain within PEI. MacKinnon’s Lobster Pound Ltd. continues to be local landmark and a favourite of visitors from far and wide.