Devout Catholic Nick Kenna, son of renowned lobster-lover (and Catholic) Ray Kenna, manages his father’s unique fish store in Chantilly, Virginia. Known as Lobster Maine-ia, the store sells lobsters, of course, but the savvy businessman Ray Kenna now has stocked much more seafood products in his store.

Tucked away in an industrial park, the store opened back in 2013 because of his family’s passion for lobsters. For decades, the Kenna family summered in Maine and trucked down hundreds of lobsters for their annual backyard lobster party. Invited and lucky guests included fellow parishioners from St. Timothy Catholic Church in Chantilly, plus Ray Kenna’s brother, Father Joseph Kenna, parochial vicar at Our Lady of Lourdes in Arlington, Virginia.

Setting up a lobster business made good sense because the family had ties to one of Maine’s most dedicated lobsterman, Tom Warner from Portland, Maine, whose lobsters were Grade A, and passed the Kenna taste test. Lobsters were then shipped from Maine to a point in Maryland, where one of the Kenna sons picked them up. And now that Lobster Maine-ia’s business has exploded from that initial 500 pounds of lobsters, it has become the time for son Nick Kenna to step up and manage the store.

“I was still in college when I started,” he said, “and when it came home from summers and from breaks, I was working at the store.” Back then, he said he did the “grunt” work, helping to figure out what was selling and what was making money. He noted that the business has grown so large, especially since it sells all types of fish, that the family has had to double the refrigerator and freezer capacity

And why not just lobsters? He explained that the store had a great customer base, but patrons might have bought lobsters once a month or for holidays. But they would tell the Kennas that they eat fresh fish several times a week, noting that they could not find good fresh fish locally. “We saw the potential,” he said. “So we jumped in and now carry hundreds of fish, from scallops to four types of salmon, fresh and frozen shrimp, seafood bisques, frozen crabmeat and others, such as cod, trout, tuna, red snapper and mahi mahi.”

Coming from a large Catholic family of seven children, Nick Kenna explained that they all worked together in family businesses, but they were taught to never value a business over their faith. “I come to work at 5 a.m.,” he said, “and then run to daily Mass. In our retail shop hangs a crucifix and that starts a good conversation… A crucifix is a good example to others.” During the holidays, the Kennas set up a manger scene in the store. The business also does fish fries on Friday nights for St. Timothy, and they donate fish for that too. During Lent, they’ll have special Lenten offerings, such as a lobster roll and soup, or a specific type of fish at a reduced price.

Although Nick Kenna, and other brothers as well, work seven days a week, the store is open only limited hours: Thursday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Note that Lobster Maine-ia does sell at some local farmers’ markets, so check with Nick Kenna or the website: https://lobstermaine-ia.com.

Lobster Maine-ia, 4280-F Henninger Court, Chantilly, Virginia, 703-439-9750. https://lobstermaine-ia.com.

 

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Lobster Maine-ia Mac-n-Cheese  

Serves about 4 to 6

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil  
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1 pound cavatappi or elbow macaroni
  • 1 quart whole milk  
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided 
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 
  • 4 cups grated Gruyere cheese (12 ounces) 
  • 2 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar (8 ounces) 
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
  • 1 1/2 pounds cooked lobster meat, 1/2-inch-diced 
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh white breadcrumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)  

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. 

Add the oil to a large pot of boiling salted water, then add the pasta and cook al dente according to the directions on the package. Drain well. 

Heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't allow it to boil. In a large pot, melt 6 tablespoons of the butter and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk. Still whisking, add the hot milk and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Remove from the heat, add the Gruyere, cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, the pepper and nutmeg and stir until the cheese melts. Stir in the cooked pasta and lobster. Pile the mixture into 6 to 8 (2-cup) gratin dishes. 

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle on top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the pasta is browned on top.