Sargent says his entire customer base was built out of New Englanders who had transplanted to New York. “I still have all their contacts in my phone, like a drug dealer. It’s all 508 and 617. It’s all these die-hard lobster roll fans.”
By the summer of 2010, Sargent was selling, on average, 250 rolls each shift, and making so much money (roughly $5,000 a night, when you included tips), he no longer had to steam his own lobsters. He’d just tell his purveyors to send him the pickings -- pre-shelled meat, which can run up to $40/lb. “You’re paying top dollar, but they’d send you a block of meat. Shipped fresh -- it was so expensive.” One day he calculated $30,000 worth of lobster in his apartment (the average market price this summer is $5/lb), cooling inside three refrigerators (one full-size, two lowboys). “That was when I was like, ‘I am a drug dealer.’”
But it wasn’t just the crustacean-tainted cash flow that drew comparison to Sargent being a drug pusher. From the front stoop of his building, he points out the red wall with barbed wire where customers used to line up to wait for the goods, sometimes 20 deep. Every night, from sundown until four in the morning, when the bars would let out, he’d emerge and quickly make the transactions.