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July 10, 2017

Mishaps mar Down East Magazine's first lobster roll festival

Courtesy / Douglas Merriam for the World's Best Lobster Roll
Courtesy / Douglas Merriam for the World's Best Lobster Roll
Ben and Lorin Smaha from Freshies Lobster Co. in Park City, Utah, won bragging rights as the creators of the “World's Best Lobster Roll,” beating 11 other semi-finalists in the inaugural Down East Lobster Roll Festival that took place Saturday on Portland's Thompson's Point.

Down East Magazine issued an apology to those attendees of its inaugural Down East Lobster Roll Festival Saturday who became disgruntled when the festival ran out of food after more people showed up than organizers had anticipated.

The Portland Press Herald reported that Down East received numerous complaints about long lines and no food before the event at Thompson's Point was washed out by a severe thunderstorm that afternoon.

"We are deeply apologetic. Thousands of people showed up for day-of sales, which was not something we were prepared for. That is our fault," said Kathleen Fleury, editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine in Camden, the newspaper reported.

And the winner is ...

The festival did establish — at least for this year's bragging rights — that Ben and Lorin Smaha, owners of Freshies Lobster Co. of Park City, Utah, make the "World's Best Lobster Roll."

Ben Smaha grew up in Cape Elizabeth, while Lorin is originally from Lebanon, N.H., and they've been selling fresh lobster rolls under the name of Freshies Lobster in Utah since 2009.

Freshies Lobster was one of 12 semi-finalists competing at the event, which began with a VIP reception for more than 250 people who paid $100 to get a chance to taste the 12 different rolls and vote on their favorite.

The top three picks from the People's Choice round — The Clam Shack, Freshies Lobster Co. and Northern Maine Community College — were then voted on by a judges' panel to determine the winner.

The winning roll from Freshies was a grilled New England-style hot dog bun filled with tail, knuckle and claw meat, topped with drawn butter, chives and a touch of lemon.

Meet the judges

The judges included Scott DeSimon, an editor and writer who has been professionally obsessed with food and drink for almost 20 years; Rebecca Charles, who opened Pearl Oyster Bar in 1997 and introduced the lobster roll to Manhattan; Michael Stern, a co-creator of Roadfood.com and, with Jane Stern, has written over 40 books about American food and popular culture, including best-sellers "Elvis World" and "The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste"; Sonny Beal, who began lobstering when he was 12 years old and who makes his home on Beals Island, with his wife and two boys; and John Leavitt, who works for Ready Seafood Company in Portland, where he provides, distributes and sells lobster to lobster roll purveyors throughout the world.

Event boosted lobstermen's alliance

A project of Down East magazine, the Down East Lobster Roll Festival featured the first-ever large-scale contest in Maine showcasing the state's iconic snack. Four dollars of every lobster roll sold went to the Maine Lobstermen's Community Alliance, whose mission is to foster thriving coastal communities and preserve Maine's lobstering heritage.

This charitable component was made possible by the sponsorship of Ready Seafood Co. in Portland, which buys and sells more than 15 million pounds of live and processed lobster a year.

Besides the winner Freshies Lobster of Park City, Utah, the other semi-finalists competing for the "world's best" title were The Lobster Lady, Phoenix, Ariz., and Isle au Haut; The Clam Shack, Kennebunk; Bob's Clam Hut, Kittery; Cousins Maine Lobster, Los Angeles and various locations; C-Ray Lobster, Bar Harbor; Bite Into Maine, Cape Elizabeth; The Highroller Lobster Co., Portland; Northern Maine Community College, Presque Isle; Eventide Oyster Co., Portland; Luke's Lobster, New York City, and various locations; Stonington Ice Cream Co., Stonington.

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