Although most people associate lobster with higher-end dining and special occasions, Chef Marc Forgione isn’t letting that pinch his plans to bring it to a fast casual setting.

Forgione recently opened The Lobster Press in a new food hall, called The Pennsy, in New York City, where he’s serving a hot lobster panini, based off a popular Chili Lobster dish served at his higher-end establishment, Restaurant Marc Forgione in Tribeca. His menu at The Lobster Press includes fresh tail, knuckle and claw meat sandwiched between buttered Grandaisy Ciabatta bread. He pairs it with a side of Chili Lobster dipping sauce for dunking, similar to that of a French press.

“Even though we’re using a high-priced item like lobster, we’ve figured out a fun and creative way to use the whole animal, in soups, the sauce, the sandwich, so that the price of our sandwich is competitive with other vendors in the Pennsy,” said Forgione, who plans to add another location downtown. “It’s a perfect example of tail to claw cooking. And so far it’s been very well received.”

The lobster is hand-picked every morning off the coast of Maine, which means the price fluctuates at market price. Right now the Lobster Press is $17, and The Press Box is $21.

Forgione also offers a sandwich called The Chance that doesn’t contain lobster, priced at under $14.

Other menu items include:

Coconut Lobster Bisque

Da Dip (grilled cheese with a side of the lobster sauce dip)

Rye (expect to see a cold fried chicken too!)

Chili Lobster Salad with arugula, local vegetables, wonder grain sorghum (gluten-free)

The Press Box which is a Lobster Press with pickled veg and kettle chips

Drinks, which include fresh-pressed juices, seasonal lemonade tea

Lobster offerings at limited-service concepts have doubled

Forgione isn’t the first to serve lobster in a less expensive way, according to Mintel Menu Insights, which reports lobster offerings at limited-service concepts have doubled over the past 12 months and often served as bite-sized pieces in sandwiches, soups and pasta dishes. According to Technomic’s MenuMonitor database, lobster has increased 2.7 percent at fast casual restaurants in a year-over-year comparison with an average price of $14.46. It’s growing most as an appetizer/starter in that segment with 52.4 percent growth in a year-over-year comparison, said Technomic’s Rachel Royster.

“It also grew 0.4 percent at quick-service restaurants, with an average price of $14.65, growing mostly in entrées at 1.7 percent,” she said. “Just for comparison, it is trending down 4.3 percent at full-service restaurants, with an average price of $22.65. I think it’s safe to say that we have a growing trend in limited-service restaurants at a lower price point.”

In good company

The Lobster Press is in good company, said Mindy Armstrong of Food IQ, who pointed out that Lobster Joint in Brooklyn and the Red Hook Lobster Pound Food Truck in NY charge $17 to $18 for lobster rolls. The East Hampton Sandwich Co. in Dallas offers a version for $16, while the Woodhouse Fish Co., in San Francisco, is selling one for $21. Captain D’s, last year, even featured lobster bites as a limited-time offer.

Armstrong believes these offerings have set a precedent for other fast casual brands to deliver the premium treat for about $17, which isn’t a lot higher than the $7 to $13 price range that fast casual consumers already accept.

“Some of the best lobster rolls around can be found off of a truck, from a kiosk or in a restaurant off the docks on the east coast,” Armstrong said. “That’s even more limited than fast casual. Lobster may be seen as a luxury, a treat or an indulgent choice, but if I could get one easily, that delivered on the premium quality and fresh flavor I would expect, I’d get it.”

Published by Fast Casual, Jan. 26, 2016

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