There are professional gamblers, sometime gamblers, problem gamblers, and then there are guys like Frank Palermo, a lobster gambler. Not only did he get the idea to open Claws, his West Sayville seafood market and eatery, after tasting his first lobster roll at Mohegan Sun a decade ago, he’s been betting on lobster ever since — betting and winning. But in adding his latest sandwich to the menu, Palermo made perhaps his riskiest bet to date, one that even he doubted would pay off.
It’s called a triple roll and is loaded, some might say overloaded, with more than a pound of lobster meat, a single sandwich for which no fewer than two or three crustaceans must give their lives, and one for which Claws charges $85.95 (fries and pickle included). “This is just obnoxious” read the menu description when Palermo launched it a few months back, never thinking that “anybody would spend close to a hundred dollars on a sandwich,” he recalled. “It’s a little insane.”
On Father’s Day, he sold 35 of them.
“We sold about 200 or 250 of our regular lobster rolls too,” said Palermo at a Claws picnic table the next day, a gambler still not quite believing his luck. The triple was bought by dads, for dads, and eaten mostly by dads, all by themselves.
Despite having “a full menu and a full market,” lobster rolls are the marquee draw at year-round Claws, accounting for 65% of total sales, and the eatery goes through 500 to 600 pounds of meat every week during the busy summer season, a volume that precludes in-house boiling and picking. “I would need a team of 15 people 10 hours a day,” said Palermo, who instead buys fresh-picked meat from Canada.
As it happens, Palermo was a fish and seafood buyer for Pathmark supermarkets before starting Claws in 2013, yet another bet that paid off when Pathmark went out of business a few years later. And to the shock of many, despite making most of his living off them, Palermo has never actually eaten a Claws roll. It’s true. And why? Because he’s a gambler, and like all gamblers —
“I’m superstitious.” He meant to try one during Claws' inception, but for some reason never did, and the longer he waited, the more the sandwich grew in popularity. From there, it was just a short illogical leap to fearing that he “might go out of business” if he did eat one. “I’ve had every aspect of the sandwich,” he clarified with a smile, just not all of it together. “And I will not.”
Claws Seafood Market is at 20 Montauk Hwy. in West Sayville, 631-256-5900, clawsseafoodmarket.com.