By NEIL ZAWICKI
Rick Leblanc never thought he could sell a lobster roll in Milton. But he’s selling 10 to 12 of them each day at Rick’s Grill in Milton, at $18 each.
The lobster roll is just one in a collection of new menu items at the six-year-old restaurant, and has been offered since Leblanc hired kitchen manager Jessie Willis, tapping his extensive culinary background and letting him redesign the menu.
The lobster rolls are just one of a collection of weekly specials, which also include a grilled ribeye steak, and stuffed haddock, to name a few. Rick’s also sells beer and wine.
The new direction is just one more in Lebanc’s long career as a restaurant owner and a chef, which along the way has included a catering business, three pizza places, and, almost by happenstance, a line of gourmet Vermont salad dressings. These include a maple balsamic, a maple horse radish, and an apple cinnamon flavor.
The dressings came about while Leblanc was catering an event at Costco four years ago. He’d whipped up a couple original salad dressings at an earlier event, and they became part of his regular offering. After a while one of the employees surprised him when she asked, “Are you going to have your famous dressings this time?”
From that conversation, the Costco store manager got involved and asked if Lebalanc would like to sell his dressings in the store. He hadn’t thought about it, and hadn’t even bottled any of them, but he decided it could be a good idea, so he said yes.
“The manager said, whatever Rick does, make sure his dressings are plastered with Vermont,” said Leblanc.
Next, he looked into costs, name the product line. “Rick’s Vermont Kitchen,” and talked business with Costco. Ultimately, the bottom line would not work, and the deal fell through.
Still, that process prompted Leblanc to launch his line of dressings on his own. He started with three flavors, and now he has eight, and his dressings sell in 25 stores statewide, while a vendor buys from him and distributes to 60 stores. He’s also moved his line to a store in Hew Hampshire, and a woman who sells specialty items on Amazon would like to partner with him as well.
Clearly, the dressings have gone well, and his grill is working also.
“It’s usually full every night,” he said.
While he keeps the grill going and sells his dressings, he continues to run his catering business, which he says he likes the best, because each gig involves a set amount of guests, and finite amount of time. Still, that number of guests can be as much as 2,000, and generally hovers around 500. For each one, he’ll cook a whole pig, which in culinary circles is a feat reserved for the most experienced of chefs.
When he started 37 years ago, he sold pizza at Meatballs, a restaurant he started when he was just 21. That one led to three other pizza places, which he sold 20 years ago, opening Rick’s Pizza in Milton, after buying the land where Rick’s Grill stands today. He didn’t develop the land until he made the shift from pizza to grill.
That’s a solid career for a kid from Essex who went through the high school culinary program and then studied hotel and restaurant management at Champlain College.
So maybe he shouldn’t be so surprised that he can sell lobster rolls in Milton.