Jean M. Lanahan, founder and owner of East Wind Lobster and Grille on Main Street in Buzzards Bay, retired last week after 30 years of serving what she calls “the best fried clams and lobster rolls you’re ever going to get.”
Ms. Lanahan started the business shortly after she graduated from college. Her boyfriend at the time was training to become a commercial lobsterman, and the couple decided to open a small wholesale lobster company together.
As their relationship developed, the little lobster shop did too. Ms. Lanahan and Thomas P. Lanahan got married and opened a fish market in 1991 and the East Wind Lobster and Grille restaurant in 1994.
“It’s not what I thought would be in my plan. I was actually a financial analyst before I did any of this. So, when it came to crunching the numbers, that was the easy part,” the self-taught cook said.
Some of the regular customers at the seafood restaurant today are the same faces that Ms. Lanahan has seen since the business first opened. She said she has come to know and care for many people in the Bourne community through serving them at the restaurant.
Staff members dubbed Ms. Lanahan “Mama Bear,” and customers later took up the nickname. She said she believes it is a term of respect, as being a good leader and mentor was always at the core of her restaurant-running philosophy. She even developed her own special spice that she now calls “Mama Bear.”
In addition to creating a positive environment for staff, Ms. Lanahan said the East Wind Lobster and Grille is all about quality.
“It’s a very casual Cape Cod clam shack. That was my thing, to keep it very casual—paper plates and hot dogs for kids,” she said. “But quality is everything. From how you treat your customers to what you buy and what you serve.”
Finding the best-quality ingredients was not always easy, she said, and she worked to build relationships with her seafood suppliers to ensure the best for her customers.
Being a woman in the fishing industry has had its challenges, she said. All of her suppliers were men, and the restaurant owner felt she had to earn their respect. She knew she gained it when her suppliers would call her in the morning to say, “I’m not bringing you anything today; you won’t like it,” and she would respond, “If it’s not good enough, don’t bring it.”
Ms. Lanahan said it will be hard for her to retire after 30 years of waking up and going to the restaurant. Mainly, she said, she will miss her customers.
“If you don’t have camaraderie with your customers, in my opinion, you don’t have anything,” she said.
Ms. Lanahan was originally planning to stay at the restaurant until the end of the year but felt it was in good hands with the new owner, Edward Perkins, and she could retire early. She said she did not want to make a big deal of her retirement but hopes her customers know how much they mean to her. “So long for now,” she said.
Looking ahead, the recent retiree is looking forward to slowing down and relaxing. She is planning a yard sale and said there might be a cookbook coming out sometime in the future. She also loves teaching and thinks in the next stage of her life she might pursue culinary classes.
“Despite how difficult the restaurant business is—and it is probably one of the hardest businesses to run, especially when you have the fish market as well and you add live lobsters and shellfish in the mix—having a restaurant open every day with so many regular customers was just very rewarding,” she said.
Ms. Lanahan encourages anyone interested in the seafood industry to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.