Luke’s Lobster Wants a Lobster Emoji

Co-founder Ben Conniff chats about the 12th location of the seafood empire

Luke's Lobster roll

Although New York City is a food Mecca, it’s not where foodies gravitate for top-notch seafood. However, Luke’s Lobster, repeatedly honored for the “best lobster roll”, has proven to be an urban exception for seafood-lovers. Started by one-time lobsterman Luke Holden and partner, Ben Conniff, Luke’s Lobster debuted in the East Village in 2009, eventually offering soups (e.g. lobster bisque, clam chowder), salads, and other rolls (e.g. crab, shrimp) beyond its award-winning lobster roll.

Last month, Luke’s Lobster expanded its mini empire by opening its 12th location. As part of this new Garment District’s debut, Luke’s Lobster offered a free lobster roll to the first 100 people who signed its petition on-site. The petition, you ask? Getting the Unicode Technical Committee to add a lobster emoji in 2018, when the UTC is scheduled to unveil a new batch of emoji. After all, there are currently emoji for a whale, a dolphin, a crab, a shrimp, and even a blowfish.

To learn more about Luke’s Lobster, its expansion, and emojis in general, I spoke with co-founder Ben Conniff – a refreshingly light-hearted yet honest and knowledgeable gent – shortly after the 1407 Broadway location opened.


The Daily Meal: Where did the petition idea come from?
Ben Conniff: When we opened our first Luke's Lobster shack in the East Village, we relied heavily on social media to get the word out. Almost eight years later, social media still remains to be one of our most important communication channels for conversing with our followers and guests. Over the years, emoji became a fun way to condense messaging on Twitter, and be more visual in general.

We watched, patiently, as the emoji-sea began to fill up: a whale, a dolphin, crab, shrimp, even a blowfish! But as the years went on, there was no lobster emoji. Instead, we and others made use of the hashtag #NoLobsterEmoji. It was clear people wanted it. Making an emoji happen is a rather cumbersome process, more than you would imagine and is actually lead by an official, non-for-profit group, Unicode Consortium. It starts with them releasing a shortlist of contenders -- this happened in early August -- and then reviewing and voting in the winter. It will not be until the spring of next year when we will learn what made the cut, and that summer when we will be able to use them.

When we saw that the latest draft of potential emoji included a lobster, we had to jump in and show our support. Our goal with the petition is to generate a surge of signatures and comments to give the voting committee no doubt that the world is ready for the lobster emoji!

How many signatures are needed for your target goal?
Unicode's process is not directly impacted by the number of signatures. However, the more the merrier when it comes to demonstrating a large amount of support. Our CFO has said he will get a lobster tattoo if we can reach 50,000, so there's our incentive!

What will you do if that emoji is created?
Use it, of course! We are a long way off from knowing if it will get approved by Unicode, or even what the final could look like. You can be sure if it does get coded, we will celebrate with our Luke's fans.

What can you tell me about your newest location?
Our Garment District location is classic Luke's -- a cozy spot with just a few seats that pulls people off the crowded streets and into an authentic Maine lobster shack. That means the most amazing lobster roll you can get, creamy clam chowder brimming with fresh sea clams, small-batch Maine beverages, and nautical decor and furnishings salvaged from the beaches and barns of Luke's home state.

We're excited to be part of a wave of great food coming to a hungry block, and to share the story of our lobster, from ocean to shack, with the working crowds and visitors of this bustling area.

Ben McKinney Lukes's Lobster. Gerry Cushman, President Port Clyde Fishermans Coop. Luke Holden Luke's Lobster


Ben McKinney, Lukes's Lobster; Gerry Cushman, President Port Clyde Fishermans Coop; Luke Holden, Luke's Lobster

What else is coming up for Luke's? More locations? More menu items?
We are finishing out the warm season with our seasonal Wild Blue Salad, featuring pickled wild Maine blueberries. We'll be rolling out a revamped winter grain bowl in the winter, along with a couple of super-exciting winter-only menu additions that our guests have been waiting a long time for. But you'll have to stay tuned for details a little closer to winter!

Beyond the menu, we still have openings coming up in the next few months in Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., and Miami!

Do you have a favorite item on the Luke's menu?
Sorry to be a bore, but the lobster roll is my favorite. I love everything on the menu, but there is something so spectacular about what we've achieved in the cooking process that makes every morsel so tender and sweet. As a lifelong lobster fanatic, it still knocks me off my feet every time I eat it.

When not busy with Luke's, how do you like to spend your free time?
I'm a big fan of cooking and home improvement, so if I get time off, I'm likely in the garden working on my tomatoes, building furniture for my apartment, or grilling for friends. I also just got a super cool dog named Taco, who has been dominating much of my personal life this summer.


Finally, Ben, any last words for the kids?
Once you've gotten your fix at our new shack, make sure you come back for National Lobster Day -- September 25 -- when we're serving a killer package including a lobster roll, lobster tail, and lobster corn chowder for a special price. And then help us celebrate our 8th birthday by hanging out at Luke's East Village on October 1, the day we opened our doors in 2009 as a couple of young knuckleheads. A lot has changed since then – and a lot has stayed the same.