For reasons that remain unclear, people who until recently were perfectly happy talking about a restaurant's ambience or atmosphere have come to prefer the term vibe, even though the word and its usage date to the ’60s.
For reasons that will hopefully become clear, people who until recently were perfectly happy terming the Lobster Roll (aka LUNCH) a roadside stand have begun discussing its vibe, even though the eatery too dates to the ’60s.
"We go for a retro vibe, we’re from the ’60s," said Andrea Anthony, co-owner of the venerable and seasonal Amagansett spot. "And we embrace that."
It was just after noon, and no one was chattering about vibes at the powder blue picnic tables outside, already packed in spite of the early hour. In fact, there wasn’t much chattering at all, most of the crowd having turned its attention to fried clam strips and clam chowder bowls and of course the Lobster Roll’s lobster rolls. The summer day was warm and getting warmer, but for now the shade from an enormous wisteria tree — its branches thoroughly fused with a sizable pergola — was enough.
And yet, the tree was no small part of the Lobster Roll’s vibe, even if no one spoke of it, as crucial to the experience as the celebrities dining incognito, not to mention all the fans of Showtime’s "The Affair," much of which was shot in the restaurant. But the vibe was also things you couldn’t see, the heaviness of collective nostalgia, the air thick with memories of all the diners who’ve stopped there over the years, and their children’s memories, and sometimes their children’s children.
"It had to be 35 years ago," said a patron at an inside booth, Tina Krokowski, struggling to remember when she’d first visited the Lobster Roll. "You cannot go to Montauk without visiting the Lobster Roll. It’s family, it’s seeing the same faces."
One of those faces belonged to Krokowski’s server, Jennifer Biscardi, who’d waited on her 15 years earlier during Biscardi’s college days. In the intervening period, she’d gotten married, had children and become a math teacher at nearby Ross School. But now it was summer vacation, the kids were older, and it was time to wait tables and "get back in the game."
"It’s addicting," Biscardi said of her Lobster Roll gig, noting that it’s not unusual to see customers already crowding around the entrance by the time she shows up for work at 11. "They would bust down the door if they could."
“A lot of people sell lobster rolls but we are the lobster roll.”General manager Paul DeAngelis
"We have a line out the door when we open at 11:45," confirmed co-owner and general manager Paul DeAngelis, himself an employee since 1981. Why the crowd? "A lot of people sell lobster rolls but we are the lobster roll."
DeAngelis was speaking of the restaurant, but also its (possible) pioneering contributions to sandwich history. It was 1965 when Anthony’s ex-husband, Fred Terry, and his father purchased the clam shack that would become the Lobster Roll’s home. A year or so later, according to local lore and a culinary historian or two, Terry began loading a hot dog bun with lobster salad — the familiar conglomeration of mayonnaise and celery that would eventually make the cold roll a favorite the world over.
"Fred was the first person to bring the lobster roll to Long Island and the New York metro area," said Anthony of Terry, whose contributions to the cold lobster roll are also lauded in the "Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink."
"It has come to be known as the ‘Long Island lobster roll,’" reads the book’s 2013 edition, "and this version has become very popular elsewhere." Terry’s claim of authorship has been disputed by many, including Terry himself, who remains a Lobster Roll partner but has not been actively involved in the restaurant in decades. DeAngelis long ago took over running the kitchen.
"They used to refer to me as the new kid on the block because I’ve only been here 40 years," he smiled.
There is much talk of the last 40 years at the Lobster Roll these days, and increasingly, the next 40, too.
"A year ago I was talking to my ex-husband," Anthony recalled. "I said, ‘I have been here over 40 years running this restaurant. Where is this all going?’ You get to that point in your life — I’m in my 60s — and you reevaluate." For a while the partners thought of selling the restaurant, but something always held them back. "It just seemed logical that we take it a step further, but I thought we’d taken the brand as far as we could."
On a whim, Anthony put in a call to Irwin Simon, founder and former CEO of Hain Celestial Group, the natural and organic foods company. To her surprise, Simon, who has become known for building brands into market leaders, jumped at the chance to become a Lobster Roll partner. ("We got the shark without going on ‘Shark Tank,’" Anthony joked.) Together, they’ve plotted a dramatic expansion of the brand that will eventually include everything from T-shirts to grab-and-go food items to doggy apparel to — crucially — another restaurant.
The team is transforming a former Southampton diner into a second Lobster Roll, scheduled to open this fall. Like the first, it will have a prominent perch — the intersection where Rte. 27 turns toward points east — but unlike the first, it will be open year-round. The location will also have a larger kitchen — as it happens, the one in Amagansett is busier than it was pre-pandemic, cranking out 500 to 1,000 meals a day despite being almost comically crowded — allowing the Lobster Roll to expand its catering presence.
It’s an exciting move, and not without risks. Can you have the Lobster Roll without the ramshackle roadside stand that gave birth to it? The diner screams retro on its own, but what will make it scream Lobster Roll? Small wonder vibe is such a topic of discussion for Anthony and company these days. However they define it, the vibe will determine everything — what they take with them and what they leave behind, and by extension, the ultimate success or failure of the venture. Certainly, the lobster rolls themselves are essential, but what about the red umbrellas and blue picnic tables, or the kiddie charm offensive of crayons and loaner toys? Will it need celebrities and a TV series? A LUNCH sign? A vast, spreading wisteria tree? Its own clot of memories?
"I’d be lying if I said I’m not nervous," admitted DeAngelis, even as his wide grin betrayed more excitement than anxiety. Anthony, too, was cautiously optimistic.
"We need to create a new look for the Lobster Roll that preserves the integrity of the — I don’t want to say shack — the seafood theme, the retro theme, the casual theme. We are going to work really hard on that vibe, but I trust that we’ll be able to nail it."
The Lobster Roll; 1980 Montauk Hwy., Amagansett; 631-267-3740, lobsterroll.com