I remember precisely when my love affair with lobster began. I was in grad school (the first time around) up in Boston…. It was the spring of my second year, close to graduation. In that euphoria that accompanies graduation time employment, we also adopted a bit of a splurge mentality – knowing that “real” jobs and paychecks awaited. With that, some friends and I set out for a lobster feast at the famous “No Name.” And that was it. I was hooked. Yes, I did have to have someone do all the “hard work” for me and extract the little creature from its shell…. And yes, I was incredibly grossed out by the mystery “green stuff,” but, nonetheless, I was a lobster convert.
All these years later, I still have a thing for lobster and will admit that I have indulged in a “Lobster Extravaganza” at a restaurant in the village of Whistler where every single course featured lobster. I even at one point owned a Kate Spade lobster key ring (yes, there was an element of practicality to that purchase….The big , red, flat claw was easy to fish out of laptop bag at the airport after a week on the road). So, you could imagine my excitement to learn that we had a Lobsterpreuneur visiting us! Yes, Dan the Lobster Man was coming to visit and was going to let us have a peek into his lobster-genius mind.
Dan the Lobster Man was born Dan Zawacki in the Midwest (not in some small lobster town in Maine like I had imagined before I met him). He was a young twenty something working in sales for Honeywell when he accidentally stumbled on his entrepreneurial opportunity. As a sales rep with Honeywell, Dan was in search of a unique gift for his key customers and came up with the idea of gifting them with a live lobster, including a pot and all, to whip up a little of their own “Lobster Extravaganza.” The lobster gift was a hit and Dan penned a business plan one night on a single sheet of paper, dubbed his brain child “LobsterGram” and found himself officially in the live lobster distribution business. Not without a few bumps in the road, Dan eventually transitioned to the lobster business full time. Dan credits his early radio show appearances as the key to an initial boost in sales. Dan continued to use radio as a main channel for advertising, being featured on talk shows such as Howard Stern and others. It’s even one of Oprah’s favorite things! Today, Dan runs a successful diversified business employing over 20 employees (with over 100 during holiday), delivering orders annually to the entire US.
While I was at a private dinner with a small group of Kellogg students prior to Dan’s talk organized by my good friend Michael Lyons of Eli Lilly & Company who met Dan on a plane, we learned that the Lobstergram also had a special place in the heart of our very own Mark Deshur. While Mark was an anesthesiology resident, he and his roommate at the time received a Lobstergram from colleague as a thank you gift. When Mark and his roommate finished their residency and went to move out of their apartment, they realized they still had the cheesecake that came with the Lobstergram in their freezer and sent it to a friend as a bit of a gag gift. Apparently, that very cheesecake is still hopping from freezer to freezer across the US as “gift” for a variety of occasions.
I caught up with Dan the Lobster Man a few weeks after his visit and asked him if he had any advice for current and aspiring Kellogg Students. This was his reply, “I wanted to thank everyone for the warm welcome and the FREE lobster dinner! I hope everyone who attended figured out that if I could start a lobster company in the middle of the United States, than anyone could start a business! I always say, “Just don’t stop clawing your way to the top, because there are lots of crustaceans trying to pull you to the bottom!”