The History of Bar Harbor Seafood & The Boston Lobster Feast
The founder, and owner of both Bar Harbor Seafood & The Boston Lobster Feast, Jeff Hazell was born by the sea, Argentia, Newfoundland, where his father was based with the U.S.Coast Guard. He was raised in Marblehead, Massachusetts, just a few miles north of Boston. The son and grandson of lobstermen, He spent many summer days working on their boats from the time he was in elementary school.
His restaurant experience started while he was in high school, from busser & dishwasher to line cook at the local yacht club, and with a football scholarship to the University of New Haven, he left with a degree in hotel & restaurant management, which included an internship as a culinary assistant at Disney World, where he became intrigued with the possibilities for growth in Orlando. As he tells it now “This is where I found what I wanted to do the rest of my life.”
Jeff returned to Orlando after graduation, and in short order started Bar Harbor Lobster, with tanks in his garage set up to hold a thousand pounds of the tasty crustaceans. He was selling live Maine lobsters to restaurants, then to grocery stores. Within a year he had outgrown his garage, and moved to a warehouse facility in central Orlando.
As the capacity expanded, the demand kept increasing as the area population boomed. Bar Harbor broadened their service area, then added in other fresh seafood product for their clients. As the success grew, Jeff Hazell decided it was time for one restaurant in Orlando to specialize in all-you-can-eat Maine Lobster.
The time came to realize his dream.
The first Boston Lobster Feast opened next to the Florida Mall in 1991. It was set up as an all-you-can-eat buffet, where the headline dish was Maine Lobster. The restaurant was an immediate hit. Word spread fast, and the lines were out the door.
Soon, a second restaurant opened near downtown Kissimmee on Highway 192. Within a few years, the Florida Mall location expanded to more than 400 seats, and was able to handle private parties of 200 people. In 1998 the Kissimmee location was moved west on Highway 192, closer to Interstate 4 and the tourist corridor in Osceola County.
Our first menu from 1991:
The core of Boston Lobster Feast is “All you can eat” Maine Lobster. Through a constant ‘tweaking’ of menu item, appetizers, sides, entrée’ items, desserts, the feast has 60 items. We use the tried-and-true method of ‘let the customer decide’ and seasonally available items are swapped or discarded depending on availability.
We had been advertising “World Famous” after the first couple of years, so in 1997-98, we recognized the international visitors coming to Orlando, and stepped up our game, producing menus in 10 different languages. Then, in 1997 BLF was one of the first restaurants with a web site, offering on-line reservations, a virtual tour, and putting all those menus on-line with increased visibility.
In 1999, a location on International Drive came available, and Feast grew again to be right in the middle of the convention and tourism industry. The Feast immediately had an impact with all segments of Orlando visitors, and people were thrilled that we moved closer to ‘their’ hotel or time-share.
In 2007, the company opened an upscale steakhouse “Jeffery’s” in Orlando’s Sand Lake-Doctor Phillips area, with a great local reception, and within a few months, the Palm, Ruth’s Chris, Morton’s & Flemings thought it was a great location as well. National chains brought their name brands, reputations and marketing, and Jeffery’s rode off into the sunset about a year later.
After more than 15 million lobsters and millions of happy customers, coupled with the changing restaurant landscape, the original Florida Mall location was closed in 2010.
Also in 2010, the Florida population passed 20 million people, and the math allowed Bar Harbor to add additional delivery vehicles to the fleet, and expand again with live lobster tanks in more than 400 grocery stores.
Who’s your Clawdaddy?
The food truck craze that swept the nation in 2012 came right through the BLF parking lot, Jeff Hazell thought of it in two ways, First, expand the reach of the restaurant, and second, additional promotion to bring people to Orlando and sample our restaurants.
As we rolled out two food trucks “Clawdaddys” was born. They covered food truck rallies and events from Jacksonville to Palm Beach, Fort Myers to Clearwater, and we still have a slew of awards for “Best of Show” or “Fan Favorite” covering our walls.
Since then, the Lobstermobile finds itself leading parades, and even getting wedding invitations!
In 2017, Bar Harbor Seafood, it’s office and warehouse locations in Orlando, Miami and Tampa along with more than 35 delivery vehicles, were sold to a Fortune 500 food service & distribution company. In fact, Hazell still buys seafood from the company he started in his garage 33 years ago.
Part of Jeff Hazell’s heart always goes back to his alma mater, the University of New Haven. Since 2001, he has been instrumental in establishing both a café and coffee bar on campus, to provide real-world training for students in the hospitality and tourism department. In 2010, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Business Administration by the school for his contributions to educational success.
The Boston Lobster Feast has employed more than 1,500 people in the last 28 years, from 41 states and 11 nations. Former employees are now running restaurants, or executive chefs. Many finished their college degrees, one became a national news reporter, another is a lawyer.
“This has been a great adventure” says Jeff Hazell. “We had no way to tell how it would go when we opened the door almost 30 years ago. All the employees have become family. Our suppliers and vendors might as well be. Like any successful business, we’ve overcome a couple of setbacks, but that’s part of the restaurant world.” And he added “But the most important things you don’t see on the menu. Quality and consistency when it comes to our customers’ experience in both restaurants. For many folks, we have become an annual destination as part of their visit to Florida. That’s something for all of us to be proud of, and we will keep selling lobsters as long as people want to eat!”