Behind The Wheel: Cousins Maine Lobster (Raleigh)

One of the great advantages of food trucks is that owners are on the truck daily. This brings a tight bond between the owner and their hungry patrons. Since many of us only get that small time between ordering and grabbing our food, I wanted to help bring us together. That’s when I got the idea, Behind The Wheel. Gets me back to telling the story and further enjoying – being around food trucks. For this installment, I highlight Cousins Maine Lobster.

Cousins Maine Lobster-Raleigh

The Kellers both enjoy the outdoors.  However on a rainy Saturday afternoon, they retreated to the indoors. Deb is sitting on the couch reading a book and Greg is surfing the Internet nearby.  The television is on, but their attention is focused elsewhere.  On the television,  two young food truck operators in Los Angeles pitching an idea to ABC’s Shark Tank investors.  What those young men didn’t know, they were pitching to someone else.  There was something in their presentation that sparked in Greg’s mind.  His attention veered away from the computer screen to the television screen.  As he was reeled in, he grabs Deb’s attention by saying, “you should do this!”  As the program revealed where the two young men were at today in their venture, the Kellers were hooked on the idea.

Cousins Maine Lobster was not the first time the Kellers saw a food truck.  Greg recalled his first experiences watching young engineers leaving the office.  Curiosity led him to ask why they were leaving the office, which had a cafeteria on-site.  After interviewing them, he discovered they were leaving for food trucks.  Not far from the office building were food trucks parked at RTP’s Fidelity Food Truck Rodeo, Morrisville, and Cary.  While Jim and Sabin’s pitched their idea on Shark Tank, he recalled these engineers lunch habits.

Find Cousins Maine Lobster at this Sunday’s Downtown Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo (1-6pm)

Though before they pushed all the chips and gamble on a food truck, they began local market research.  In August, they decided to attend the Downtown Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo.  It was here they witnessed a food truck from a new perspective, a potential food truck owner.  The first thing they noticed – popular food trucks with long lines.  They approached these guests and questioned why they waited in those long lines.  Guests responded, “the food was good” or they enjoyed that particular food truck.  After getting the guest’s answer, they followed up, “What about a lobster truck?”  The responses were positive and some questioned where this food truck was located.  These answered reaffirmed their idea about bring a lobster truck to the Triangle.

They visited a few breweries nearby like Big Boss, Nickelpoint, and their hometown brewery, White Street.  Seeing the atmosphere the food trucks and local beer brought, these feelings assured them to pursue a Cousins Maine Lobster franchise for Triangle region.

Entering the Family

When The Kellers contacted Cousins Maine Lobster about a franchise opportunity, Cousins Maine Lobster was excited to hear from them.  One of the main reasons, Cousins Maine Lobster had targeted the Triangle food truck market has a future opportunity (Raleigh is consistently listed as one of the top 10 markets to start a food truck).  However, extending the Cousins Maine Lobster family is not a submit a credit card over the phone transaction.  Cousins Maine Lobster wanted to adopt the new owners into the family.

Cousin Jim and Deb - CML Raleigh
Deb Keller and Jim Tselikis, one of the cousins in Cousins Maine Lobster.

The Kellers explained the selection process was not overnight, since Cousins Maine Lobster vetted each potential franchise owner.  Cousins Maine Lobster wanted to pursue active owners and not passive investors.  They also wanted to be sure they fit their profile for a franchise.  This included visiting Los Angeles to see the original truck in action.  This where they spent most of their franchise research, on their Los Angeles food trucks.  In fact, they spent more than other owners that joined the Cousins Maine Lobster family.

CML Raleigh-Jim and Deb
Deb and Cousin Jim on the food truck giving an introduction.

One of the benefits of Cousins is their product’s distribution channel.   Since the state of Maine is the only location to get Maine Lobster, Greg wanted to understand how they would get the freshest, highest quality product without challenges in delivery.  After meetings with Jim and Sabin and other officers, the Kellers were brought into the Raleigh branch of the Cousins Maine Lobster family tree.

As new owners, the Kellers continued their research.  Deb especially wanted to know all that she could about operating within the Triangle.  She approached other local food truck owners for advice, she worked firsthand in Phoenix with that food truck during the Super Bowl in Arizona, and she asked other Cousins Maine Lobster family owners about their experiences.

CML Raleigh - Deb
Deb in the Pick Up window on the truck

Bringing the Triangle and Maine Lobster together

Getting Maine Lobster off North Carolina’s coast will be geographically difficult, the Kellers will incorporate some menu items from local products.  The pico de gallo and cilantro lime sauce will be made using locally-sourced vegetables.  They are also looking on ways to make freshly pressed tortilla from a local provider.  They also can provide gluten free menu items by replacing the flour tortillas with corn.

CML Raleigh-Shrimp Tacos
The Shrimp Tacos with their locally made pico de gallo, locally made cilantro lime sauce, and local handmade flour tortillas.

The Kellers have lived in the Triangle for 20 years raising both kids, which attend classes at East Carolina and North Carolina State.  I ask if one might think about taking over.  Their response were that both kids are excited about their parents recent endeavor.  The Kellers also want to incorporate as much of the community as possible into the food truck.  When you meet Deb, there is a feeling that she enjoys building relationships, not quick transactions.  Combining the family’s deep roots, their goal is to incorporate their likes and hobbies, such as jazz and live music, golf and the outdoors, wine and local breweries, with their food truck.  In the end, they hope to extend the Cousins family to you.

Lobster Quesadilla: Maine Lobster, freshly grated cheese, locally made pico de gallo, locally made cilantro lime sauce, on a local homemade flour tortilla
Lobster Quesadilla: Maine Lobster, freshly grated cheese, locally made pico de gallo, locally made cilantro lime sauce, on a local homemade flour tortilla

Update: I sat down with the Kellers almost over a month ago to write their story.  The one thing I have to say is Cousins Maine Lobster has been a great support for the Kellers.  The truck you see today is actually one of the Los Angeles trucks.  It traveled on a flat bed from the west coast to the Triangle.  In addition, one of the cousins Jim Tselikis is here to help launch (catch him all this weekend).  North Carolina still remains a home for the Kellers as their son will take on Charlotte with his fresh, new NC State degree.

CML Raleigh-Maine Root
Find on the truck bottled Maine Root sodas

Follow them

Cousins Maine Lobster

Cousins Maine Lobster-RaleighTwitter: 
Instagram: @cmlobsterraleigh

This weekend is their opening weekend catch them: Meet in the Street (Wake Forest, May 2nd), Downtown Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo (May 3rd).

They also make items gluten-free, which will be perfect for their stop June 6th at Bull City Ciderworks.

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