A real family affair brings Maine ‘lobstah’ rolls to Houston.
by Marene Gustin
“I didn’t miss the cold,” says Melvin “Buddy” Charity of his hometown of Biddeford, Maine. “Or the rain or the sleet—but I missed the food.”
So much so that he and his wife opened a little Maine-style sandwich shop in Louisiana while they were teaching school there. Then they moved to Texas to teach. But it wasn’t until they retired here that they decided to open Maine-ly Sandwiches in the Greenspoint area.
“We opened November 5, one year ago,” Charity says. It is in a hard-to-find little strip center far from the food-centric Inner Loop, but it wasn’t long before it became a destination for food critics and bloggers alike.
Charity and his family—daughter Holli and son Casey work in the business—started with a limited menu of Italian sandwiches, packaged chips, real clam chowder and a few other soups, whoopie pies, and saltwater taffy.
Oh, and the Friday specialty, the lobster roll. Or, as they write on the paper it’s wrapped in “lobstah roll.”
And it was that one-foot-long toasted bun of lobster deliciousness that made him an almost-overnight sensation. “If I could have found the buns here, I probably wouldn’t have started a sandwich shop,” muses Charity. But the hot-dog-style yeast buns were not to be found in Houston, and they are part of what makes a true New England lobster roll. Charity has them specially made at a Stafford, Texas, bakery. Buttered and lightly toasted, they make the perfect delivery system for the meats, cheeses, and toppings that make up Maine-ly’s sandwiches.
Before long, Charity had lines out the door on Fridays. He says it was his family that insisted he make the lobster rolls an everyday item, and the rest is Houston food history.
With hardly any advertising, Maine-ly Sandwiches went viral. The mainstream media and social-media foodies freaked out. Finally, there were real New England lobster rolls available daily in Houston. Even with an almost $20 price tag (you can order a half sandwich for under $10), they flew out the door. After all, as Charity points out, he’s saving Houstonians the airfare to Maine.
“Yes,” he says, “I was surprised. And very thankful for all the publicity we’ve received. It’s been incredible.”
So much so that people begged him to open another shop inside the loop. Four months ago, his South Shepherd Drive location opened in a former cupcake shop. The day they opened, customers were waiting outside, ready to order lobster rolls. “And people are still begging us to expand,” says Charity. “Downtown, Pearland—they want a Maine-ly Sandwich shop near where they live and work.”
The only drawback to that idea is that Charity wants to have a family member at every location. Son Casey manages the original location; daughter Holli runs the South Shepherd location and bakes the whoopie pies. So he’s importing family members from Maine as he eyes an expansion of his lobster roll empire.
In the meantime, he has plans for the South Shepherd shop: he will be adding a fry station for what he calls pier fries—hand-cut french fries with sea salt that are served with white vinegar and grilled clams. And by the time you read this, they should have beer and wine on the menu. He’s also expanding the catering side of the business.
Charity guesses that they go through about 125 pounds of lobster meat every week at the two locations. Besides the incredible buns, the sweetly succulent lobster meat is dressed with just a hint of mayonnaise and lemon and a touch of salt and pepper.
And while that is a divine sandwich, you really need to broaden your horizons occasionally. There’s a really good snow crab roll, as well as turkey, salami, ham, and roast beef sandwiches. And don’t forget the “I Love Bacon” BLT—the same delectable bun with lettuce, tomato, and as much crispy thick bacon as can be humanly stuffed into it.
“I just wanted to give bacon lovers something special,” Charity says, “without killing them.”
Well done, well done.
Marene Gustin also writes the Gift Guide in this issue of OutSmart.