“That was so good!” the visitor from New Orleans exclaimed loudly as she ripped off her plastic bib.
She had just devoured a lobster dinner at the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, and her reaction was typical.
The eatery at the gateway to Mount Desert Island has been so popular for so long that it is considered an institution. A lot of people from away — indeed, from all over the world — come back year after year.
“We have people who came here as children, and now they are bringing their grandchildren,” said Josette Pettegrow, whose father, George Gaskin, bought the place in 1956. It has been in the family ever since.
The high quality of the food and consistency top the reasons for the lobster pound’s success and longevity, she said. Just as important is the constancy of the whole dining experience.
“People like it because, when they come through door, it’s the same atmosphere that they remember from year to year,” she said. “Some people who have been coming here for a long time always sit at the same table because, for them, it’s like coming home.”
Maintaining that comfortable familiarity is why Josette, who runs the lobster pound with her husband, Anthony, and their son Warren, hasn’t made many changes over the years.
“I learned to walk in the dining room, and my son learned to crawl on the table around the corner,” she said. “That means a lot to us; this is our heritage. We hate to even have to replace a door.”
Some changes are necessary, though, to keep up with the times and the traveling public’s expectations. At first, back in the 1950s, the menu consisted of lobsters, clams, potato chips and soft drinks. That was it. Now, there’s also chowder, crab rolls, corn, potato salad, pies and a few other items.
“We still make sure that everything we serve is the best quality, and we do our very best to make sure people are satisfied and happy when they leave,” Josette said.
This summer, for the first time, the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound is serving beer and wine.
“Years ago, we would send people to a little store up the street [to buy their alcohol],” Josette said. “But now, with the traffic, people can’t really get to the store and get back before their food is ready.”
The Pettegrows estimate that at least 70 percent of their customers are people who have eaten there at least once before. And for some of them, the lobster pound is a place to reconnect with friends.
“They know one another because they’ve been coming here for so long,” Josette said. “People who have met here will come back at the same time of year and meet up here. It’s really cool.”
Warren Pettegrow said it can feel like a family reunion.
“Sometimes we know the whole dining room,” he said. “It can get really loud.”
Some first-time customers see the restaurant’s sign and decide to stop. Others figure that the cars parked along the road for a quarter of a mile in each direction are a good sign. But perhaps most enticing are the billowing clouds of steam escaping from the lobster cookers out front.
In addition to running the restaurant, the Pettegrow family has a thriving mail-order business. They ship lobsters both domestically and internationally year-round.
The Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound has been featured in a number of travel magazines, including some published in other countries.
“People who have read those come here, and then they tell their friends and they come,” Josette said. “We have people here every year from all over the world.”