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Mason's Famous Lobster Rolls

One bite and you're in Maine

In Maine, lobster is a plentiful staple. Almost everyone has lobster in the ice box and has a favorite shanty for rolls. The further west you go, it becomes more exotic and, naturally, more expensive. Mason's Seattle franchisees Gary (father) and Michael "Finn" (son) Findlay want everyone to be able to experience lobster the way it should be. "People should be able to afford high-quality lobster and not forfeit an arm and a leg," says Finn. "Anyone who moves away from the Northeast craves a good lobster roll or cup of chowder."

Michael "Finn" Findlay

Gary had a restaurant in New Hampshire over 25 years ago, then worked in other businesses. The family moved a lot, and Finn remembers his time on the East Coast. He was still young when they moved to Colorado and recalls story time at school when all kids were asked what their favorite food was. His? Lobster! His parents felt the need to explain to everyone they weren't really rich, lobster was something everyone ate back home. Clearly, the Findlay family and lobster were destined for each other.

Finn has worked in restaurants since he was 13, bussing and washing dishes, and worked at chain restaurants like the Texas Roadhouse to fine dining, in both front and back of the house. He didn't make it a career, going into consulting after grad school, staring at spreadsheets all day. "I always loved food and how we can be introduced to cultures through their unique cuisines. I love those hole-in-the-wall places where food is genuine and transports you to the country or region. Working in D.C. exposed me to various cuisines I hadn't been privy to before. You can get any kind of truly genuine food. I was spoiled!"

Wanting a change of pace, Finn moved to the Northwest where several friends live. "I had visited many times and had fallen in love with the area and had always wanted to live here." Friends also got him into Mason's; once he tasted it, he was hooked. "I talked to my dad about how we grew up with this type of food, but how scarce and unavailable it is outside of New England. While you can find lobster and similar New England food in the Northwest, I couldn't really find something authentic like I'd had in my childhood. The reason we opened Mason's was to give that authentic experience and share the food culture with one of the greatest cities in the world. When you walk into Mason's, our goal is to have you transported to those lobster shacks in Maine with rolls that don't exist here. I have two younger sisters and along with my dad, we plan to open more locations. It's been wonderful having Mason's bring our family closer and for us to be able to share our passion with our guests."

The BLT, photo courtesy of Mason's

What sets Mason's apart is that with the number of stores all working together, they have exclusive access to a fleet of boats. They get first pick of the best lobster off the boats and since they have agreements in place, the lobster isn't sitting in holding facilities. So not only do they get the best, they get it faster, and they get it for a lower price. "We use knuckle, claw, and tail meat, which is the best. Leg and belly can be stringy, rough, and a little fishy. You don't want to use that and turn people away from liking lobster. Maine lobster is so special. It has to do with many things: species, water, and when the shell sheds. You want the lobster when the shell is soft because the meat will come out in one piece. We know the sweet spot to harvest. Even harvesting a little north in Canadian water changes things. Dan Beck, our Founder and CEO, is a lobster expert. He opened the first Mason's in 2014 in Annapolis, Maryland. We have checks and balances to ensure the lobster is of the highest quality: from the boat to the managers at the stores. If something doesn't look good, they let me know. We'll send it back." The lobster is certified sustainable Maine lobster.

Mason's 1st Avenue interior

The true New England lobster roll experience is, of course, about lobster. But bread is just as important for authenticity. "It's hard to describe," says Finn, "but the bread is critical. We get it from Massachusetts and it's a particular kind of bread that toasts well and holds up to any sogginess from the butter or mayo, without being hard. It complements the lobster. Because we use melted butter, it has to be right and that's imported as well."

They offer five types of genuine lobster rolls, along with two shrimp rolls; the shrimp is also certified sustainable from Maine. "Like any kind of dish, there are differences from state to state, so we offer several options, but ours are always 100% knuckle, claw, or tail meat." There's lobster or shrimp salad, lobster bisque, New England clam chowder, lobster mac and cheese, lobster grilled cheese, and even for those persnickety kids, Nathan's Famous hot dogs. Along with fountain drinks, they offer organic Maine Root soda. They also cater; details can be found online. Keep in mind that this is a mom and pop shop, and they need time to turn large orders around.

Lobster bisque and chowder, courtesy of Mason's

"I wanted the perfect location to share this lobster experience with the Pacific Northwest," says Finn. "Being at the Harbor Steps is ideal. A lobster roll is 'walk-around' food, so being able to take a roll to the Steps and enjoy the water view is as close to the New England experience as possible. I've always loved this area with Pike Place Market nearby, the Great Wheel, waterfront, and view.

"We want to be genuine and authentic, like a lobster shop on the side of the road outside of Portland, Maine. No bells and whistles, we just let the lobster sing."

Connie Adams/September 2022

Mason's Famous Lobster Rolls
1307 1st Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101

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