Lobsterman Jason Clemens fills a crate of lobsters for sale to the Angie’s Lobster wharf.  (Jeffrey Good photo)

Cam Roy manages the Angie’s Lobster wharf on Mackerel Cove, Bailey Island. The Arizona fast-food chain owns the wharf and a processing plant in Richmond. (Jeffrey Good photo)

Craving a buttered roll filled with Maine lobster that costs less than $18, $25 or $30? Take the next flight to Phoenix.

There, an upstart fast food company called Angie’s Lobster offers rolls filled with a quarter-pound of New England’s favorite crustacean that’s served warm and buttered, chilled, grilled or fried. Add in a drink, fries and their trademark sauce and the total comes to — wait for it — $9.99. 

Is there a catch? Yep, in more ways than one.

It all begins with Harpswell lobster boats and a historic wharf nestled into Mackerel Cove on Bailey Island. In the summer of 2022, Angie’s bought a long-standing family lobster pound there and established the first link in a supply chain that is bringing Vacationland lobster to Arizona drive-thru diners at eye-poppingly low prices.

Tony Christofellis, who founded the company and named it for his late mother, says business is good and getting better. He says buying the Bailey Island wharf was “the coolest thing we’ve ever done.”

“It’s been a year, we’ve learned a lot, and we are so much better than we were on Day 1,” Christofellis says. “We’re so happy to be part of the community.”

Angie’s purchased a wharf that had been run for a quarter-century by Doug Pilon, a beloved figure with a reputation for taking care of the lobstermen and women who came to his Bailey Island Lobster Co. to gas up their boats, buy their bait and sell their catch.

After Pilon died and the Arizona-based Angie’s took over, a sense of uncertainty arrived and some of the lobstermen debated whether to move to another wharf, including Glen’s Lobsters next door. Some left. But most stayed, and seem happy they did.

“Doug Pilon, he helped the fishermen a lot,” says Lance Stilphen, who at age 39 is one of the younger lobster captains plying the waters around Harpswell. “Angie’s is the same way. They’re great to work for.”

Pulling a Boston Red Sox cap down to shield his eyes from the sun after delivering the day’s haul to wharf manager Cam Roy, Stilphen says he loves the idea of his catch ending up on a roll 2,800 miles away.

“You get people knowing about Maine lobster — especially if they can’t afford to come out here.”

Wharf manager Cam Roy, left, and driver Darryl Weeks lift a crate of lobsters. (Jeffrey Good photo)

Cam Roy sorts lobsters on the Angie’s Lobster wharf on Mackerel Cove. (Jeffrey Good photo)

Cam Roy loads lobster crates into a truck for delivery to a processing plant. (Jeffrey Good photo)

Honoring a hardworking single mom

Christofellis and his sister were raised by a single mother, a Greek immigrant who spent her adult life working in Boston-area seafood restaurants — eventually one of her own — and taught them the value of hard work, thrift, and taking her children and grandchildren by the hand for an impromptu dance.

“She was not a stuffy and cold person; she was full of warmth and personality,” reads a biography on the Angie’s Lobster website. “She was blue-collar and low frills. No person and no task were beneath her. This was very important to her, and she made sure we were the same.”

Christofellis fondly recalls the times when his mom would take a rare day off and pack him and his sister up for a day trip to the Maine coast to splash in the cold Atlantic waters, roam the beaches and enjoy an ice cream. As she grew older, health struggles set in, including three heart attacks and pancreatic cancer, but she remained stubbornly upbeat until her death in March 2020.

“When my mom, Angie, passed away, we wanted to honor her,” says Christofellis. “Seafood was in her blood.”

So was stretching a hard-earned dollar. “Lobster for all!” is the company motto, and the business is structured around making what most consider a luxury meal available for the price of a chicken sandwich and fries. That means, first and foremost, cutting out the middlemen.

After Pilon’s death in 2020, his wharf on Abner Point Road came up for sale and Christofellis saw an opportunity to buy lobster directly from the boat rather than through a distributor. In the summer of 2022, he took over the operation and began a series of improvements, including upgrading a refrigerated shed to keep the all-important supply of bait fresh.

He also took the time to listen to the captains who had been working with Pilon for years, and he keeps that line of communication open. “You can call and email them and they’re easy to get ahold of,” says Stilphen.

There have been rough patches, including when Christofellis asked them to switch from getting a check for their day’s catch to accepting a direct deposit into their bank accounts. That prompted one captain to leave, but the ones who remained have come to appreciate the convenience of not having to make a trip to the bank after a long day on the water.

“They call me, they text me, they bust my chops, I bust their chops,” says Christofellis. “We’re outsiders and we try to set up a new process for them.”

In addition to offering high-quality bait at a fair price, Angie’s sells fuel at cost and buys lobsters at a competitive wholesale price: $5 per pound as of late summer. And when prices go low, Christofellis pays a differential to ease the pinch.

“The fishermen who have stayed have ended up making more money than anyone else,” he says. “You’ve got to take care of people on the front line.”

Lobsterman Lance Stilphen pulls up to the Angie’s Lobster wharf on Mackerel Cove. “You get people knowing about Maine lobster — especially if they can’t afford to come out here,” Stilphen said of his catch feeding fast-food diners in the Arizona desert. (Jeffrey Good photo)

Shawn Baumgartner is the fourth-generation owner of Glen’s Lobsters on Mackerel Cove. His new competition, Angie’s Lobster, is a good neighbor, he says. (Jeffrey Good photo)

Fresh from the waters around Bailey Island, live lobsters await their fate in a crate at Angie’s Lobster. (Jeffrey Good photo)

New neighbor on a historic waterfront

Angie’s doesn’t just own a wharf in Maine; the company also purchased a processing plant in Richmond where lobsters are steamed, shucked and flash-frozen for the long, refrigerated ride to Arizona. The plant employs 100 people during the peak May-December fishing season.

They’ve spent the last year refining a method for extracting every shred of meat from each lobster — not just the sweet knuckle and claw meat traditionally harvested for lobster rolls, but also the tail and harder-to-get flesh from legs and shoulders.

“Our goal is to be sustainable and use the whole lobster,” says Christofellis.

In addition to extracting more food from each lobster it buys, Angie’s also keeps costs low down the line. The company’s restaurants (five now, with three more set to open in the coming months) are drive-thru, not sit-down. They serve sandwiches in plain, unbranded packaging, offer no paper receipts or condiments other than butter and their trademark “Angie’s Sauce,” and ask customers to make their own payments and grab their own food from a holding area.

“We built our business from the ground up to be able to sell lobster at this price,” the company says. “Our model is about efficiency.”

The first Angie’s drive-thru opened in August 2022, Christofellis says. He declined to say how many lobster rolls they’ve sold or how much lobster the Maine processing plant handles, saying he doesn’t want his competitors to have that information.

At the same time, Christofellis says Angie’s pays wages that are above the industry average, offers health insurance and strives to treat employees well.

Roy, who came aboard as wharf manager in May, says the company provides help when he needs it but otherwise lets him work independently.

“They put a lot of trust in me, which I appreciate,” says Roy, a Maine native who joined Angie’s after serving as a K-9 handler in the Army, including details protecting Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Darryl Weeks, who drives the refrigerator truck carrying lobsters to the processing plant, adds, “They pay well, treat you good. Definitely look after their employees.”

Nick Christensen, who had worked for 20 years at the wharf and told a newspaper reporter last year that it was “great” working for Angie’s, has since left to work for Glen’s next door. He declined to comment on his reasons for switching, saying only that he is “very happy” in his new job.

Glen’s is a multi-generational family business operating out of a red barn that’s a familiar feature of Harpswell’s working waterfront. It has about 23 lobster boats based at the wharf, compared to about 15 currently pulling up to Angie’s.

Handed off the boat, lobsters are packed in crates — each holding 90 pounds — for distribution. On a sunny late summer Tuesday when a reporter visited, Glen’s took in 82 crates (7,380 pounds) to Angie’s 49 (4,410 pounds). The bounty was such that Glen’s sold about half their haul to Angie’s to help provide Arizona residents with their Maine lobster fix.

At Glen’s, Shawn Baumgartner is the latest in a line of owners dating back to his great-grandfather. While Angie’s is a competitor, he says, it’s also been a good neighbor. “They’ve been good people to deal with.”

Lobsterman Clarence Coffin pulled his first trap 40 years ago and has been coming to the same wharf — first Pilon’s and now Angie’s — for decades. He sees no reason to move.

What does he think about his catch heading to the desert southwest for lunch? “More power to them,” he says. “The best thing to do with a lobster is sell it.”

One place Angie’s will not be selling meals is Maine, where lobster sold at $5 per pound ends up in rolls retailing for $20 to $25 or more at local restaurants and stands. Christofellis says it’s not really fair to compare his $10 lunches to ones sold by mom and pop operations that use unfrozen lobster meat and offer not just a meal but an experience.

“We don’t have any plans to open (outlets) in Maine,” says Christofellis. “It’s such an important part of the legacy and history of Maine.”

Jeffrey Good is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author (“Poison Mind“; “Healers, Inventors & Entrepreneurs“), and editorial director for Acceleration Academies, a network of dropout reengagement programs. He and his wife, Diana, live on Orr’s Island. Got a story idea? Email jeffrey.a.good@gmail.com.