LEWISTON — Squeeze the lobster meat. Whip the salad dressing. Prep the pickle packers.
It’s a procedure Don Grant knows so well.
“By 6:15 a.m., we’ll have the assembly line up and running,” Grant said, not bothering to look at a schedule.
On the morning of April 30, soda cans and Grant’s brownies and one-ounce bags of Wachusetts-brand chips will appear in bag lunches alongside fresh rolls overflowing with lobster. By 1 p.m., nearly all of the 1,500 sandwiches will be gone.
The baker can almost see it before it happens.
Since 1979, a Grant has always run the Calvary United Methodist Church’s Lobster Roll Luncheon.
“For my dad, it was a passion,” said Don Grant, who runs Grant’s Bakery in Lewiston and grew up attending the Sabattus Street church. “When you belong to a church, you try to do your part.”
That’s what Irving Grant was doing when he came up with the idea of selling lobster rolls as an answer to some of the sluggish chowder fundraisers in the late 1970s.
“Everybody seems to like lobster rolls,” Grant said.
Irving Grant’s recipe was really simple. It has never been changed.
“We start with a fresh hot dog roll,” Don Grant said. “We go straight to Country Kitchen and get it straight from the bakery.”
At the bottom of the roll, a small piece of lettuce is added for crunch.
“Then it’s just lobster and salad dressing,” he said.
It’s a classic, served with a soda, chips, sweet pickles and a brownie. And it was successful the first time.
Irving Grant held the first luncheon in the spring of 1979 selling about 350 rolls for $3 a piece. He did another in the fall, selling the same number despite a 50-cent hike.
Within 10 years, the little luncheon became an annual tradition, with deliveries going to businesses throughout downtown Lewiston-Auburn and stretching to Portland, Bath-Brunswick and Augusta.
In 1989, the luncheon sold 3,000 lobster rolls at $6 each. It peaked in 1993, the same year Don took over from his dad, with almost 3,800 lunches.
That was too many, Don Grant said.
“My dad loved getting people to make orders,” said Grant, a lanky figure stretched out behind his desk in his bakery office.
But it taxed the church’s volunteer force
Grant has charted the luncheon on a computer spreadsheet that lists each year, price, profit. It also counts the number of lunches sold and the amount raised.
Since 1979, the luncheon has served up an estimated 71,070 lobster rolls and raised $212,492, Grant said.
“That’s net, not gross,” he said, grinning. The money goes directly to the church’s bottom line.
Why does it work so well? Grant said he was uncertain.
Part of it is the simple recipe. Then, there are the volunteers, who serve as labor force.
With military efficiency, Grant and others have scheduled times for this year’s needed jobs.
In one session, volunteers will bag 1,500 sodas. In another, they’ll pack pickles. There will be people to thaw the needed 240 pounds of lobster, some to pick the lobster of any imperfections and more to squeeze the thawed lobster of its juice (“So you don’t get a soggy roll,” Grant explained.)
On the morning of the 30th, a crew plans to meet at Grant’s bakery to gather all of the luncheon’s pieces and haul them to the church.
Thirty minutes later, an assembly line will be making the lobster salad and packing lunches.
Deliveries will be made across Lewiston-Auburn. There will be four pickup points for pre-orders, including the bakery, the church and the Auburn United Methodist church.
And there will be lunch orders headed across the region.
Some will go to state offices in Augusta. Some will go to Bath Iron Works. More will go to businesses in Portland.
And by 12:30 p.m, it will be all over.
What will Grant do?
“I’ll have a sandwich,” he said.
Don Grant’s recipe
- Fresh-baked hot dog buns from Country Kitchen
- Crisp lettuce
- Lobster meat sufficient for the rolls
- Miracle Whip salad dressing
Combine lobster meat with just enough Miracle Whip to hold the meat together. Put a little lettuce in the bottom of the bun and add the lobster meat. Enjoy!
Call 782-5503 or 784-7771 to place your order in advance. Order by April 29.
On April 30, a limited number of extras will be available. Call: 782-3221
Pickup will be arranged at one of four locations.
Price is $9 per roll.
All money raised goes to the Calvary United Methodist Church.