The meteoric rise of Rock Lobster is a story of success that could only exist in the 21st century. If he were starting a restaurant in a world without social media, Matt Pettit would still be stuck at his job as a representative for spirit and wine companies. Instead, he was forced to leave because his passion required his full attention.
The idea for Rock Lobster started as a common thought many of us have had when we go travelling – “Why don’t they have something like this at home? It would do so well!!” In Matt`s case, he was eating seafood in New Brunswick when he asked himself why there wasn’t a cool, affordable, delicious seafood restaurant in Toronto?
Once he had the thought, he was off. Unable to get the idea out of his head, Matt wrote a detailed business plan – complete with menu, brand, and competitors – one Saturday night. Equipped with what he knew was a great idea, Matt did what all entrepreneurs do and started to build mountains, one stone at a time.
He started by going to the source. He called seafood suppliers on the East coast and eventually travelled there himself to meet directly with fishermen. In just one trip, he cut the middleman and made a deal directly with a fisherman to import his seafood directly. He had his product.
Next, Matt started doing food events. His event of choice: the pop-up restaurant. Rock Lobster first popped-up on March 10, 2012 selling lobster rolls behind the Cosmopolitan Hotel. They sold 350 lobster rolls, everything they brought, in less than three hours. Matt eventually headlined the pop-up scene, becoming the star of the Toronto Underground Market (TUM) events, serving 1,500 patrons at the TUM`s first anniversary event in October.
Given his pop-up success, Matt knew that in order to properly grow the business and satisfy its growing number of cult followers, Rock Lobster needed to take up permanent residence. So on November 1, 2012 he got the keys to 110 Ossington and 26 days later, on November 27, Rock Lobster was open. They have been packed ever since.
Taking advantage of the popularity of the foodie scene in Toronto, Matt has made his restaurant a visual experience. Walking in, on the front wall there is an incredible mural of a lobster painted by Matt’s dad. Paintings of Mounties and maps of Canada line the restaurant. Order a Rock Lobster Caesar and it comes with a lobster tail coming out the glass. The lobster rolls are overflowing with lobster. Everything is made as a visual experience to encourage pictures and sharing between customers who are addicted to #foodporn.
The incredible rise of Rock Lobster is proof that success can be achieved with hard work, business savvy, and a great idea – if executed properly. Matt’s ingenuity has allowed Rock Lobster to prosper in many ways. Because of his relationship with fishermen, Matt has taken his business model to the next level, acting as a wholesale seafood provider to other restaurants. He continues to offer his kitchen to other pop-up restaurants, staying close to the scene that allowed him to refine his business model. And he caters private events. All the while, Rock Lobster continues offer cool, well thought-out seafood, good booze, and a great atmosphere.
Coming up on the one year anniversary of Rock Lobster, Matt says stay tuned. His spectacular rise hasn’t reached its apex yet.