Cafe Society

The anatomy of a $20 lobster roll: why the new street food costs what it costs

Our recent story on the cost of Denver's street food brought out plenty of snarky opinions, as you debated the value of lunch from a truck. Most of you seemed okay with paying prices between $5 and $10, but the Mexican feast and the $20 lobster roll, especially, were the subjects of contention.

We decided to dissect the costs borne by Steuben's to sell the $20 lobster roll from the truck, to determine whether it's a fair price.

First, we looked at the food costs.

Bun: $.54 Lobster, per roll: $12.80 (this assumes lobsters, which Steuben's buys fresh from Maine, are selling at the price of $8.99 per pound; $12.80 is the after yield price for the meat in one roll- so after the shell, etc. is removed and just the meat remains) Dressing, per roll: $.15

Total food cost of one lobster roll: $13.49

As a point of reference, most restaurants try to run their food costs around 33 percent (all so they can eek out a profit at the very end of about 5 percent per menu item). The food cost of a Steuben's lobster roll is 67 percent.

Then we added in the labor of assembling the lobster roll in the Steuben's kitchen.

Labor for lobster-shucking: $.32 per roll, assuming a $10/hour employee is doing the work Labor for dressing-making: $.60 per roll

Total labor cost of one lobster roll: $.92

Steuben's estimated that the accompanying fries and final assembly of the dish costs about $.10, bringing the grand total cost of assembling a lobster roll in the restaurant to $14.51, before you distribute costs for managers, maintenance, cleaning, rent, and all the other restaurant-related stuff that's not related to any specific product, but comes out of the revenue generated by meals.

Then we looked at the cost of operating the truck, where labor and operating expenses cost $.63 for every dollar worth of food sold. That means for a $20 lobster roll, $12.60 is spent on the staff, gas, maintenance, and licensing of a truck.

Add $12.60 to $14.51 and you get $27.11, the total cost of selling a lobster roll from the Steuben's Food Truck. So, for every lobster roll you purchase, Steuben's is actually losing $7.11 on you.

No doubt some of you are going to say that maybe Steuben's shouldn't sell a $20 dish from a truck at all, especially if they're losing that much money, but as we wrote in our story about their endeavor, the crew at the restaurant believes the new truck scene is about bringing people together to eat foods they'd never expect to eat on the street in places they'd never consider dining. And given the lines at the truck's stops, there's a sizeable population in this city that's on board.

Get a lobster roll today at Civic Center from 11-2.