Bluffton adds upscale mobile food cart business to incubator

gsmith@islandpacket.comMay 22, 2013 

  • LOOKING FOR LOBSTER
    Here's where you can try Joe Loves Lobster Rolls' offerings:

    • Buckwalter Place Farmers Market, 2 to 6 p.m. every Tuesday
    • Shelter Cover Farmers Market 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Wednesday
    • Farmers Market of Bluffton, 2 to 7 p.m. every Thursday
    • Corner of Calhoun and Lawrence streets in Old Town Bluffton every Friday.
    • Various festivals on weekends. Catering available.

    Details: www.joeloveslobster.com

As a boy, Tony Herndon loved visits from his cousin, Joe Love, a lobsterman who entertained him with stories about fishing for the crustaceans in the cold waters of Maine and the special fishing community that relied on and respected the animal for its livelihood.

"He was a humble and great man," Herndon said of his cousin. "He'd tell me about his father and grandfather taking him out on the boat when he was growing up, about how they would carve a 'V' in the fertile females to let the other lobsterman know she was a producer, about generations of families that worked the waters."

To honor Love, who died in 1972, Herndon recently named his new food cart business in his honor: Joe Loves Lobster Rolls.

"I wanted to pay homage to him and immortalize him," Herndon said, a New Jersey native who now lives in Savannah. He's moving to Bluffton, where he and his teenage daughters are becoming regulars at area festivals and farmers markets, serving up their lobster rolls, the knuckles and claws of Maine lobsters served on a toasted and buttered bun.

It's the town's only mobile-cart food business, according to Bluffton leaders. Three other businesses applied for business licenses to sell hot dogs via carts or trailers in 2010, 2011 and 2012. But none are still in business.

The business is also the 11th business to join the town's Don Ryan Center for Innovation, a small-business incubator that helps startup and small businesses get to the next level.

Herndon is working with the incubator to develop an app to track inventory, alter distribution and book events for restaurants with multiple locations.

"This business has the momentum to really take off," said Marc Orlando, Bluffton's deputy town manager and the incubator's new, acting director. Its first director, Jordan Berliner, recently resigned to pursue other business opportunities.

"In addition to bringing the best Northeastern seafood to the coastal South, Herndon has tech ideas, which are ripe for our region's food, tourism and hospitality industries," Orlando added.

This week, a local advertising agency will conduct a focus group for Herndon's new business.

"We're working to determine what other markets to go into," Herndon said whose long-term goal is to have both brick-and-mortar restaurants and several food carts. He also hopes to set up a end-of-life hospice center also named for his cousin.

"Our market right now is Yankees who haven't had a lobster roll in awhile," he teased.

And even though he's making and selling the rolls five days per week, Herndon personally loves the rolls too.

"I had some for breakfast this morning," he said Tuesday. "It's such a fantastic food -- sustainable and healthy. It makes me feel good about what I'm putting in my body and what I'm serving others."

Follow reporter Gina Smith at twitter.com/GinaNSmith.

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