On the spot: Paul Shenkman, Sam’s Chowder House

Published on
January 16, 2011

 The long-standing Sam’s Chowder House, which serves authentic New England fare along the shoreline in Half Moon Bay, Calif., is expanding its successful food-truck service. After forming a separate operation for its Sam’s Chowder House food truck last year, it will add another Sam’s ChowderMobile — serving a variety of fresh seafood appetizers, sandwiches and entrées — by this summer.

 SeafoodSource recently caught up with Paul Shenkman, co-owner of Sam’s Chowder House and partner of the recently opened Italian restaurant Osteria Coppa in San Mateo, Calif. Shenkman was also named “National Restaurateur of the Year” by restaurant magazine Sante in November.

 Blank: Describe the operation and development of Sam’s ChowderMobile.

 Shenkman: We have been in operation a year now and have a separate crew. The first four or five months it was not profitable; it was definitely a learning curve. The events we went to were not right for us. It is much more efficient and profitable to go to a particular place where people know you are going to be and they are waiting for you. Every Monday, we go to Genentech and can feed 250 people. We also go to Electronic Arts, Apple and other companies. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the truck is in Golden Gate Park. We are right between the two museums there. At night, we do a lot of private events, including clam bakes. We bought a refrigerated van that can go with the truck. We have been needing so much extra product.

 Describe the menu of Sam’s ChowderMobile.

 We do a half lobster roll for USD 9, clam chowder, fish and chips, fried calamari and fish tacos. We always do some kind of meat offering, such as pulled pork sandwiches, and we offer fries. Certain groups will request specific items such as fried oysters. For private events, clam bakes is real big for Sam’s. We have a big cooker … in which we load lobster, clams, mussels, corn on the cob and other seafood, then cover and steam it.

 What are the most popular seafood items in your Sam’s Chowder House restaurant?

 The lobster roll is our No. 1 seller, far and away. Five years ago, the Today show named the lobster roll as one of the top five sandwiches in America, so people want to try it. The chowder is obviously a big seller also; we do both New England and Manhattan chowders. We do sell a lot of the fried stuff, including fried shrimp and fish and chips. We also sell a lot of lobsters and crabs.

 What are your concerns about purchasing seafood?

 Prices have gone up fairly dramatically over the last six or seven months. It has to with availability — there is much less wild seafood available because all the fishing quotas are down. The extreme weather across the globe is also causing a lack of availability. We have not raised our prices; right now, everyone is just making fewer profits. However, this was the best Dungeness crab season we have had in years. We also had some local salmon; the stocks are starting to come back.

 How important is sustainable seafood at Sam’s Chowder House?

 Our customers want wild as much as possible, and they want sustainable as much as possible. The majority of our seafood is sustainably caught. If we can’t use wild salmon, we sometimes get Scottish salmon. We pay a lot more for organic, sustainable, fresh and wild. In the future, restaurants will be using more frozen fish. With the new technology, such as flash freezers on the boat, the flash-frozen quality will be better than buying fresh fish that has been on the boat for three or four days, plus a few days coming back to shore.

Contributing Editor

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