Facing Daily Challenges
"Every day is a new opportunity for us to put ourselves out for our customers," says Ray Young. Ray, 39, and his sister, Diane Young Parker, 45, represent the fourth generation of the Young family to manage the very popular Young's Lobster Pound and Restaurant in Belfast, Maine. Their grandparents, Bud and Belle Young, whose ancestry can be traced back to Germany, started the business 75 years ago and instilled in their family a powerful work ethic. "We worked in grocery stores, shoveled snow, and chopped wood. When we earned enough money we could buy the bike, not before," says Ray.
Young's Lobster Pound, which sits on the shores of Penobscot Bay, looks more like a red warehouse than a restaurant. Customers enter from the parking lot through the open side of the building into the kitchen, where they place their orders. Ray, Diane, and other family members can be found behind a large stainless steel counter taking orders and weighing lobsters. Two enormous stainless steel kettlesthe same ones that their grandparents usedsit atop an oil-fed combustion chamber enclosed in bricks. Water is boiling ferociously in the kettles, and the lids can barely contain the steam. Once an order has been placed, a lobster is pulled from a tank, weighed, and dropped in the cauldron of boiling water for several minutes to cook.
Opposite the kitchen is a multi-tank "hotel" where the lobsters are placed when they are brought in by lobstermen. The lobsters are divided according to size in tanks that are filled with water pumped directly from Penobscot Bay, where most of the lobsters are caught. "As long as they get plankton from natural sea water, they can live in our tanks indefinitely," Ray explains.
When an order is filled, customers take their array of lobster, clams, shrimp, chowder, lobster stew, corn, and coleslaw to picnic tables on the deck in the back of the building overlooking the water. If it's cool or wet, patrons can go to tables inside on the second level. There, Ray's daughters and their cousins can be found clearing tables and talking with customers.
The Lobster Pound is open year round, but summer is the busiest time. On July 4, America's Independence Day, people start lining up at 8 a.m. for carryout orders for their holiday celebrations. "We have no idea how many people we serve, and if we did it would probably scare us," says Diane. The Youngs hire extra help during the summer, but they find that some people don't understand hard work the same way the Youngs do. That is one thing that has changed since they were young, Diane and Ray say. Ray's advice for young people is simple: "Nothing comes easy. By working hard for your goals, you will appreciate what you get."
The Youngs take pride in doing the unexpected for their customers. "One time we opened [the restaurant] at 1 a.m. so the drivers from the local raceway could celebrate their victory with a lobster dinner," Ray recalls. If someone in a customer's family does not like seafood, Ray and Diane will order a pizza for them from another restaurant, pick it up, and deliver it to their table at the Lobster Pound so that everyone can enjoy the meal as a family. "We've even warmed a baby's bottle," says Ray.
Ray and Diane both meet customers and take orders. In addition, Diane makes fish stews and chowder, and she packs the meat that has been picked from the lobsters for shipment to commercial customers. Ray is responsible for meeting the fishermen and buying the lobsters. That also gives him the chance to be close to what has been his favorite job.
"I loved being a lobster fisherman," says Ray, who started in the business with one lobster trap and a rowboat when he was just six years old. By the time he was in his 20s, he had 150 traps and a much bigger boat. "I miss being out on the lobster boat," Ray confesses. "Every day is a challenge. There are always surprises, and you never know what might be in the trap until you pull it up."
Diane believes that the American dream is the life they have. "We've grown up knowing the importance of work, honesty, and good values, and we've had the chance to raise our children the same way. Doing the right thing, the honest thing, has to be part of you. For us, it's a gut instinct that came from our parents," she says.
During March and April, their slow time at the Lobster Pound, Ray and Diane take their children on trips to see the rest of the world, including South America and Australia. This is something that earlier generations of Youngs could not do. "Our parents and grandparents worked hard and 'went without' to make the business as strong as it is today," they say. "We owe it to them to work just as hard as we can for the next generation." Cathy Lickteig Makofski
From the e-journal "The United States in 2005: Who We Are Today".