Manhattan Chef McFarland Builds Multi Unit Lobster Empire

Lobster Bar Ed McFarland
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The choice for so many chefs today is how to maintain consistency in their kitchen and then to balance the potential paths of growth. For Chef Ed McFarland, that decision has been to focus on customers first. The rewards have been an unprecedented thirteen plus year run in his Manhattan eatery Ed’s Lobster Bar, and now an expansion into the Hamptons.

Chef Ed McFarland
Ed McFarland, Chef/Owner, Ed’s Lobster Bar

Ed McFarland has combined a unique skill set of culinary talent and savvy business sense. Since the opening of Ed’s Lobster Bar in 2007, he has transformed the place on Lafayette Street into a busy lunch destination. At night, the bar is full with regulars and enthusiastic new guests, soon to become part of McFarland’s community.

The New York City native’s recipe for success sounds simple, but is in fact very difficult to accomplish. It started with an atmosphere that can only be described as comfort with aromas of freshly prepared seafood – sweet, salty and creamy. Most regulars come for the famous lobster rolls, others strictly for the grilled fish or the clam chowder. Among Chef Ed McFarland’s signature items are a bucket of steamers, crab and artichoke dip, served in a glazed clay dish cooked to perfection with white toast or steamed lobster. That is combined with an unmatched attention to service.

“I grew up in a family in which home cooked meals were a way of life. It began in Brooklyn and then onto Staten Island. In the winter, it was lots of traditional American cooking, and then in the summer, big family barbecues.” The New York City native began his culinary journey at the age of 17 at a Staten Island pizzeria.

Chef McFarland’s career was impacted by his decision to attend what was then the French Culinary Institute. I was working at the pizzeria and I dropped out of college, so one day I picked up a magazine and that’s how I decided to attend culinary school. The real take-away from French Culinary was an in depth understanding of basic cutting and cooking techniques, McFarland continued. I also made connections that have been a part of my career ever since.”

  • RATIONAL USA
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units
  • AHF National Conference 2024
  • Imperial Dade
  • Atosa USA
  • McKee Foodservice Sunbelt Bakery
  • Day & Nite
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • Easy Ice
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • RAK Porcelain
  • Epiq Global Payment Card Settlement
  • Inline Plastics
  • DAVO by Avalara
  • Simplot Frozen Avocado

Among those key connections was FCI’s Alain Sailhac who introduced McFarland to Chef Terrance Brennan of Picholine. “He knew the type of motivated students that came from the school and hired me on the spot,” McFarlane explained.

“It’s interesting that even though I had trained in traditional French technique, many of those skills I have continued to use,” McFarland added. “Even though it seems as if everything has evolved to everybody being in a rush and healthier dining, traditional skills like cream sauce reductions are a staple in our restaurants today.”

Ed McFarland’s career moved to the legendary Le Cirque. “It wasn’t a great fit for me because it really was a seamless machine that was producing up to a 1000 covers for lunch, dinner, and banquets. It was very interesting to watch the systems that the Maccionis and their team put into place but very little room for creativity. I really learned that you need to always be ready and prepped up.”

McFarland then worked at a number of smaller bistros around the City.  “I knew that my love was seafood and I was determined to find the right opportunity to work exclusively with seafood. I had the perfect scenario at Pearl’s Oyster bar as the sous chef. My six and a half years there gave me the experience I needed to open my own place.”

“Seafood fascinated me. The delicateness and high food cost of seafood makes it a challenge. Not to mention small quantities and the frequency of deliveries. Very few restaurants are willing to take that risk on and really and really embrace it. When we opened Ed’s Lobster Bar, it gave us the opportunity to expand beyond just lobster rolls and whole lobsters,” McFarland noted. “We have created a menu that features everything from lobster ravioli to lobster meatballs.”

With focus on a single category like seafood, the vendor relationship becomes crucial for the operator. “You have to make certain that you are not getting gouged with pricing and that they are sending you their very best product everyday.” Ed’s Lobster Bar currently utilizes Two Cousins in Freeport, NY and Sea Salt Lobster to provide lobster to the restaurants. McFarland also likes the quality of seafood selections provided by Gotham Seafood.

Lobster Bar Ed McFarland
The front interior at Ed’s Lobster Bar in SoHo, New York City

Much of the growth of seafood on menus has been perceived by many to be as a result of interest in healthier fare. “I disagree, I see increased interest in seafood as a result of focus on sustainability,” McFarland quipped. “It puts pressure on the chef and restaurateur to make certain that fish is being caught in proper ways. You need to learn to understand why dredged scallops and oysters are simply not acceptable. Even though the temptation may be to use Chilean sea bass, the banquet fish of choice because it doesn’t dry out, you simply can’t.”

The move from sous chef at Pearl’s to signing a lease on his own place in 2006, provided unique insight into the opening of a restaurant. “When I started at Pearl’s, it was always with a goal of opening my own restaurant. In 2006 when I signed my lease, my focus was purely on finding partners that just brought money to the equation. Ten plus years later, clearly money alone does not lead to a winning formula. In addition to money, the right partner brings marketing support and a network of clients to eat in the restaurant. You need partners that are going to help build the brand.”

Chef Ed McFarland’s ability to continue to grow and sustain his business is a testimony to his vision. “We endured ups and downs and with that the changes in SOHO in general. When I first opened, I assumed that with lobster rolls and fancy specials, we would be good to go forever. From the start, customers told us we want the basics: steamed mussels and clams, little neck clams, basic fish and chips. There was absolutely no interest in anything fancy. So I learned from the start that the customers were going to dictate the menu. This year is really the first with any significant changes, which include meat on the menu with a new burger and short rib.”

The addition of the meat items in addition to expanding the menu have enabled McFarland to adjust food costs with the challenge of escalating seafood prices. “The City is ‘over-restauranted’ and even though with 30% more restaurants than every opening, we need to compete with the experimenting that goes on with our customer base.”

McFarland brings interesting insight into the volume of restaurant openings. “There are a number of older folks that have made money in other careers and they get hooked on the flow and excitement of the restaurant industry. It looks easy but they have no concept of all of the little things that go into it.”

McFarland took a big step in the growth of his company last year when he opened a second Ed’s Lobster House in the Hamptons. “For over ten years, customers constantly wanted to know when we would open there. With the new Sag Harbor location, we took a little different approach with a pseudo-seasonal location that includes limited hours outside of the summer months. The summer is just insane and very customer driven.”

The Hampton’s opening has reinvigorated Chef Ed’s desire to expand his brand. “If we would find the right spot in Miami or Las Vegas and even Jacksonville and Nashville are all on our radar as we look to grow.”


To learn more about Ed McFarland or visit Ed’s Lobster Bar, visit their website.

  • Epiq Global Payment Card Settlement
  • Day & Nite
  • RATIONAL USA
  • Inline Plastics
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units
  • RAK Porcelain
  • Easy Ice
  • McKee Foodservice Sunbelt Bakery
  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • Atosa USA
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • Imperial Dade
  • AHF National Conference 2024
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • DAVO by Avalara