Susan Povich, co-founder, Red Hook Lobster Pound

In a quirky neighborhood, she helped inspire an urban craving for lobster rolls

Says Povich of her venture: "It was such a weird concept. I couldn’t say it was going to work.” (Photo by Timothy Fadek)

From law to lobsters? It’s a career change unlike most, but it’s the one Susan Povich took in 2009, and it has proven to be wildly successful. Povich is the co-founder of Red Hook Lobster Pound, one of the first establishments to bring fresh Maine lobster direct to Brooklyn. Starting with a storefront restaurant in Red Hook, they’ve expanded to outposts in Manhattan and Washington, D.C., and a beloved food truck knowns as Big Red.

Povich and her co-founder, husband Ralph Gorham, had lived in Red Hook for awhile before even thinking about lobsters. “We had bought a building in Red Hook that we wanted to develop into apartments,” Povich recalls in our podcast. “The board of standards and appeals wasn’t so inclined to let us change the zoning.”

Around the same time, Povich and Gorham happened to go on a family vacation to Maine. “We picked up some lobster in Portland from friends, I cooked it and it was delicious, and it was really inexpensive. My husband said, ‘Why don’t we bring this back to New York and change the building and open a lobster pound?’” 

red hook lobster pound

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Povich was a successful lawyer at the time, working in tech and music. She was not a total stranger to the culinary world, having quit law once before to go to French cooking school. She even ran a restaurant for two years early in her career, but closed it in frustration and continued as a lawyer. “There was always a calling back to culinary endeavors, which was my passion,” she says.

So they opened a lobster pound in the spring of 2009. “We called it Red Hook Lobster Pound because if you spit in the street in Red Hook, the media wants to write about you,” Povich says of the name. “It’s this weird place that they’ve always been trying to figure out. Over the years Red Hook has become an international tourist destination.”

The idea of fresh lobsters in Red Hook did indeed catch the attention of the media. Sam Sifton, who was then the restaurant critic of the New York Times, happened to live in the neighborhood and mentioned the couple’s new business in an item. (“These two scamps have been playing Mr. and Mrs. David to the local Fairway’s lobster Goliath since summer,” he wrote.) Before they knew it, they had hit the press. “Just with the live lobster, we had 20 print articles in two months. It was such a weird concept. I couldn’t say it was going to work.”

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The pound’s first expansion was selling lobster rolls in the early days of Brooklyn Flea. Povich remembers the simplicity of joining the Flea, now somewhat unimaginable given its popularity. “Why don’t I ask them if I can make lobster rolls and sell them under a tent? And that’s what I did.” She describes her first day selling. “I showed up with my little tent and my two tables and my grill and there were 400 people in line.”

Slowly but surely, they turned their pound into a full-fledged restaurant. “We took my husband’s wood shop, carved out a little area in the front, and put picnic tables there. And that worked well for a while. Then we put in a steamer, we started doing lobster dinners, then we started expanding our menu.”

When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, Red Hook took one of the hardest blows. In rebuilding their facility, Povich and Gorham took the opportunity to expand further and refurbish their space, selling their first post-Sandy lobster roll to the mayor. Red Hook Lobster Pound’s flagship restaurant is now one of the cornerstone stops in anyone’s visit to Red Hook.–By Kora Feder