Park City’s Freshies Lobster Co. snares title of World’s Best Lobster Roll
Owners say honor validates restaurant’s authentic New England taste
When her restaurant’s name was announced as the winner, a mix of disbelief and ecstasy surged through Lorin Smaha.
A few months prior, she didn’t even know the competition existed. Even after finding out, Smaha and her husband, Ben, questioned the wisdom of leaving town as a busy summer was heating up just to chase an award they were certain they had little chance of actually winning.
If they had known what lay ahead in Maine, though, they would have never hesitated.
The Smahas’ restaurant, Park City-based Freshies Lobster Co., won Down East magazine’s inaugural World’s Best Lobster Roll contest, held earlier this month at a festival in Maine, snaring the title amid a field of competitors from New England, home of the lobster roll where the succulent seafood sandwich is seemingly baked into the culture.
“It was like, ‘Oh my God,’” Smaha said. “It all just felt like a great accomplishment.”
At the start of the contest, Smaha said she was unsure how Freshies’ offering would stack up to the competition. But as the preliminary judges — a group of about 300 people who had paid to taste the sandwiches — began digging in, it became clear Freshies was a contender. The judges, at first skeptical because of the restaurant’s landlocked location, were quickly won over, enthusiastically voting the Smahas into the finals against two other participants.
From there, the decision was in the hands — and mouths — of a panel of five expert judges. They tasted a roll from each finalist as the crowd swelled, anticipating the verdict. Eventually, the judges emerged and delivered their decision: It was a tough call but the choice was unanimous — none of the rolls matched the flavor of Freshies.
The Smahas, along with a collection of about 20 friends and family members, erupted in a cacophony of cheers and hugs. Smaha called it an “amazing moment” that rivaled winning a state basketball championship in high school.
“We’ve worked for years at this,” she said. “Weekend after weekend of missing out on camping trips with friends, and not going home a lot during the summertime. It was really exciting.”
Since taking the title, the Smahas have received media attention from around the country. The Boston Globe, for instance, profiled Freshies and posed the question of how a restaurant from the heart of the Rocky Mountains, of all places, nabbed the honor. The exposure has been remarkable for a small eatery that started with a food truck at farmer’s markets and just recently opened a brick-and-mortar location.
“Our business has grown five times what it was,” she said. “It’s just drawing people from all over the state and Wyoming. It’s bringing people in because they can get a lobster roll and know that it’s validated. They’re getting a true lobster roll. Can you really distinguish who the best is? No — it’s a personal opinion. But we have a good product.”
Despite the attention, Smaha admits that one aspect can be grating at times: the seemingly universal shock that a Utah restaurant is capable of dishing out world-class lobster rolls. The explanation, it turns out, is simple.
Smaha grew up in New Hampshire and her husband hails from Maine and spent countless days fishing for lobster off the state’s expansive coastline. Living in Park City has not disconnected them from their roots, and in fact they ship in fresh lobster and rolls daily from Maine to ensure they’re providing customers with an authentic taste of New England.
“To me, I still call home back East,” she said. “I love being able to have that connection to the East Coast, and it’s great to be able to bring that here and share it with others. We’re proud of it.”
For more information about Freshies, visit freshieslobsterco.com.
David Bieber has been a business consultant and entrepreneur for most of his adult life. Now, he is leading the entrepreneur nonprofit PandoLabs.