Valentine's Day is around the corner and many in the U.S. will soon receive the holiday's top gifts of flowers, chocolate, and a nice dinner out.
But what about a lavish dinner in?
It's possible, thanks to Lobster Gram, whose live lobster home delivery service relies on UPS to get the crustaceans to your home alive and in time for dinner.
"For Valentine's Day, it's just perfect because you can send your sweetie a package, send it to their office, and it'd be a complete dinner," says Dan Zawacki, the company's chairman and founder.
Lobster Gram's namesake package and top seller includes two live hard-shell Maine lobsters, lemons, clarified butter, shell crackers, seafood forks, bibs, moist towelettes, preparation instructions, and a recipe booklet.
Packages are customizable, too, with the option to tack on add-ons like jumbo shrimp, scallops, and mussels, filet mignon, rib-eye, and New York strip steaks, and post-dinner treats like cheesecake and Colombian coffee. Lobster Gram can even include long-stem glasses, candles, and matches.
Lobsters haven't always been considered a delicacy, though. In Colonial America they were used as field fertilizer, fishing bait, and a poverty food served to children, prisoners, and servants. It was only when the country's transportation infrastructure improved in the 19th and 20th centuries and fresh lobster made its way inland that the crustacean began to be considered a high-status food.
The Chicago-based company has been shipping live Maine lobsters to homes and offices in the United States since 1987. The process starts with fresh-from-the-ocean lobsters, which are dropped off at the company's warehouse in Biddeford, Maine.
"That afternoon we give them a drink for a few hours and we pack them in the polystyrene coolers," Zawacki says.
The drink refreshes a lobster's gills, which store salty seawater from which they extract oxygen. Ice gel packs in shipping coolers keep the lobsters at around 45 degrees in transport.
"You want to keep them cold but not freezing because then they'll die," Zawacki says.
According to Zawacki, lobsters can live approximately up to 36 hours outside of water. UPS's overnight air delivery is a good fit, ensuring that Lobster Gram's precious cargo reaches its destinations alive, where recipients can then cook the fresh ocean catch.
"UPS was my first delivery service," Zawacki says. "You were just coming out with the air service. You'd come in to the alley in the back, we'd open up the garage, and load the packages."
That was back in the late-80s, when Zawacki shipped out of a three-story Chicago flat with a basement that served as a home office. He built a two-car garage that housed a lobster tank. About 15 years ago, he added the Maine warehouse, where UPS drivers show up in semis during another of Lobster Gram's peak shipping seasons--Christmas and New Year's.
But, for now, Lobster Gram is gearing up for its first peak season of the year: Valentine's Day. (Photo: UPS driver Nelson Zacarias picks up one of Lobster Gram's packages for delivery. Dan Zawacki stands next to him with a lobster in hand.)
"After 26 years, you either have it figured out or you go out of business. We've pretty much got it figured out," Zawacki says. "We're the largest home delivery lobster service in the country. We have the greatest product out there but we still gotta get it delivered."
In Colonial America lobsters were used as field fertilizer, fishing bait, and a poverty food served to children, prisoners, and servants.