One particular delivery to an Ohio Red Lobster restaurant in the summer of 2020 should have been like any other. But then a female employee removed the lid of the crate, and after peering inside she saw something that looked a bit odd. Indeed, this bizarre sight was a sea creature that she had never seen before.
The restaurant is found in Ohio’s Cuyahoga Falls, and the consignment drop-off was delivered by air in July that year. This form of transport cuts the travel time significantly compared to road routes, and it ensures the eatery’s ingredients are as fresh as possible.
Cuyahoga Falls is located around seven hours by car from New York City and 40 minutes north of Cleveland. And despite being minutes from Lake Eerie, Red Lobster’s seafood is not typically found in that body of water.
The Red Lobster restaurant ships its main ingredients in from both ocean catches and farm-raised stock. But something wasn’t quite right when that July day’s air shipment arrived. To wit, it was staff member Lora Jones who first spotted an oddity among the usual fare.
Jones subsequently showed her colleagues what she had seen, and none of them could believe their eyes. Furthermore, they soon knew that it wasn’t going onto the menu. That’s because the creature found lurking in the shipment was actually an incredibly rare discovery.
Today, Red Lobster is a chain seafood restaurant with more than 700 sites across the United States, but its beginnings were more humble. The company was founded in 1968 by Bill Darden, who opened a lone eatery with the help of his family in Lakeland, Florida. And the restaurant was to specialize in his favorite cuisine: seafood.
According to the company’s website, Darden believed that everyone in the U.S. should be able to enjoy the best quality seafood – however far they’re located from the coast. Then, just two years later his restaurant caught the attention of food conglomerate General Mills. With the company’s investment behind it, Red Lobster then opened new locations across the country.
Red Lobster’s menu evolved throughout the ’70s and proved a hit with customers nationwide. The restaurant chain’s popularity surged at the end of the decade after numerous famous advertising drives. Consequently, by the mid-1980s Red Lobster was able to establish a site in Canada and devised themed promotional events – such as the now-traditional Valentine’s Day Lobsterfest.
Today, Red Lobster operates sites in 11 countries – including Qatar, China, Japan and Ecuador. Its website adds that the company hires 58,000 staff and is the world’s biggest seafood restaurant. Not only that, but the firm also has plans to expand further.
Like most restaurants, Red Lobster’s range of food covers main courses, appetizers, soups, salads, sides and dessert. The eatery serves lunch as well as dinner, and it offers an array of party platters, family deals and kids’ selections. But as well as the expected aquatic fare, the restaurant chain also throws a few culinary curveballs.
For instance, there’s a chicken and steak selection with a choice of filet mignon, sirloin or NY strip steaks. Also on the menu is a Cajun chicken linguini alfredo, along with a surf and turf option of Maine lobster and sirloin. Sides might come in the form of green beans, baked potato, fries, mash, rice, a Caesar salad or cheddar bay biscuits.
Of course, a glance at Red Lobster’s menu shows that the menu largely consists of seafood dishes. Appetizers are a choice of lobster and langostino pizza, Parrot Isle jumbo coconut shrimp, langostino lobster-artichoke-and-seafood dip, white wine and roasted-garlic mussels, seafood-stuffed mushrooms and mozzarella cheesesticks. Any of these might then be followed with a choice of mains and side dishes.
A typical fish dish might consist of salmon caught fresh that day from New Orleans or the Atlantic Ocean. The catfish option, meanwhile, is raised on a farm. And if you’re dining with children, they have a range of choices: including golden-fried fish, popcorn shrimp, chicken fingers or macaroni and cheese.
Moreover, combos consist of lobster, shrimp, crab, scallops, clams, salmon and mussels. But all these options and the company’s millions of customers a year puts a huge strain on fish populations. And the survival of certain species is a growing concern.
As Red Lobster says on its website, “Traceable. Sustainable. Responsible. These are more than just words on our menu – it’s our promise that all of the seafood we serve is sourced to the highest standards. Because, as one of the world’s largest seafood purchasers, we believe it’s our responsibility to protect and preserve our oceans and marine life for generations to come.”
Red Lobster says that it vets its long-term suppliers around the world in person before entering into a partnership with them. Naturally, this ensures that the company knows exactly where the fish that arrives in its restaurants comes from. What’s more, the chain can ensure that the delivered produce is of the highest quality.
The seafood restaurant claims that its suppliers comply with sustainability guidelines within the fishing industry. These standards are regulated by official bodies such as the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative and Best Aquaculture Practices. Further to this, Red Lobster says that regulations set by the Aquaculture Improvement Projects and its fisheries equivalent are also adhered to in order to keep fish supplies plentiful.
The company writes on its website, “We support and follow regulatory efforts that manage fish populations and mandate our suppliers comply with all applicable laws.” To achieve this, Red Lobster abides by regulations set out by the Total Allowable Catch organization, which monitors fish populations and manages fishing quotas.
The seafood restaurant chain claims that it has known where every piece of seafood it serves came from since its inception in 1968. Furthermore, Red Lobster is a founding member of the Global Aquaculture Alliance, and it helped formulate the Best Aquaculture Practices certification.
Red Lobster says that it supports Total Allowable Catch regulations which manage the population of fish, and the company also apparently avoids catching at-risk sealife. Meanwhile, staff at the Cuyahoga Falls branch were about to have their own experience of dealing with rare sea creatures when they spotted something unusual among a delivery.
You see, what worker Lora Jones had found in the shipment of ingredients was a blue lobster. General manager Michelle Falconer told Today in July 2020, “At first the lobster just looked a little off. But when we put her in our tank, she was this beautiful, brilliant color.”
Naturally, the distinctive blue hue stood out from the other lobsters in the delivery. Anthony Stein – who is a culinary manager at the Cuyahoga Falls establishment – told NPR that same month, “At first it looked like it was fake.” You see, staff had sent a picture of their find to him since he wasn’t around to see for himself.
The lobster that the workers had discovered was of the common American variety. The species is usually a familiar red color, but this one was different. Due to a rare genetic defect, its shell was blue instead of its typical hue. As Stein observed, “It’s definitely something marvelous to look at.”
The workers were certainly taken by the unusual-looking creature, and they named it Clawde in honor of Red Lobster’s mascot. But if the creature wasn’t to become one of the restaurant’s delicacies, what would its fate be? Well, employees soon began ringing their contacts to work out what should happen next.
At first, staffers apparently made the lobster feel comfortable. Server Angie Helbig explained to NPR, “We kept [it] in the tank and just made sure that nobody took him in the back for dinner.” But they knew Clawde couldn’t stay there forever, so they reached out to partners across the seafood industry.
The blue lobster got acquainted with other crustaceans in its temporary home. And in the meantime, management at the eatery got in touch with the corporate office, which then contacted the Seafood Watch Program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. As it happens, Red Lobster is a member of the marine-life facility’s seafood ethics initiative.
What’s more, Ohio’s very own Akron Zoo is also a member of the Seafood Watch Program. And it’s this establishment that was nominated as Clawde’s new home. Days later, the blue crustacean was transported to the zoo’s aquarium, where staff had prepared a tank for the lobster. And by all appearances, the creature settled in well.
Manager of Akron Zoo Animal Care Kathleen Balogh explained to NPR, “[Staff] sprung into action. [They] prepared a suitable area and made a cage so the lobster would feel comfortable.” She then drove to Cuyahoga Falls with a co-worker and a large cooler filled with cold saltwater to collect the zoo’s newest addition.
Vets performed tests on the blue lobster upon its arrival. Balogh told the publication, “There is a little bit of wear and tear from its journey,” but the crustacean was otherwise in good shape. However, the zoo made another interesting discovery: the lobster was actually female.
Clawdia – as she was renamed to reflect her gender – is in fact an incredibly rare find. Indeed, it’s widely agreed that there’s as little as a one-in-two-million chance of coming across such a lobster. It’s a statistic that’s supported by the University of Maine Lobster Institute, but its executive director Rob Bayer told the BBC that this figure is just a guess.
Bayer told the BBC in May 2016, “The chances of this happening nobody really knows.” His comments, meanwhile, relate to a couple of fishermen in Canada who found two blue lobsters within days of each other off the U.S. Atlantic Coast.
However, a professor at Cambridge University in the U.K. called David Spiegelhalter believes that the guesswork may be accurate. Rough estimates suggest that 200 million lobsters are fished in the North Atlantic annually, according to the BBC. Therefore, if the one-in-two-million guess is correct, then only 100 of the crustaceans would be blue.
Spiegelhalter told the BBC, “… For two [blue] lobsters to be caught three days apart – quite close to each other – does not seem at all surprising. I would imagine it happens most years.” Nevertheless, one in every two million lobsters is still a pretty long shot, so Akron Zoo is treating its new inhabitant with care.
The genetic mutation that creates the abnormality causes increased production of a particular protein, which apparently creates the blue coloring. Charlie Ellis – who works at the National Lobster Hatchery as a researcher in the U.K. – described lobster colors to the BBC. He said, “The American lobster is usually a sort of greeny brown, so anything bright blue would look very odd to fishermen there.”
Ellis continued, “… European lobsters tend to be a duller blue color. The real sort of iridescent blue is still rare here, but the difference is that, to a European fisherman, it will seem less completely out of the ordinary than it would seem to a North American.” Though regardless of how infrequently they’re seen, other colored lobsters are even more rare.
For instance, the yellow variety make up around one in 30 million of total stocks, according to the Lobster Institute. Furthermore, the albino lobster is an even rarer find. The BBC added that chances of discovering one of those is around one in 100 million.
Bayer went on, “Whatever the odds of catching different-coloured lobsters, there’s no denying that bright blue ones are truly beautiful creatures. They might not be the most unusual, but they are undoubtedly the best to look at.” Indeed, it is the hope of Akron Zoo that Clawdia will eventually make it into a display for the public.
Vince Jeffries is Akron Zoo’s director of marketing and public relations. He told Today, “Shortly after we introduced Clawdia to her aquarium, she started moving rocks around to create her own cave. That was a good sign, it means she’s doing well.” However, she must shed her shell in the fall in order to continue growing.
Claudia is actually in isolation at the time of writing; it’s Akron’s policy to quarantine new arrivals for around three months due to safety. Nevertheless, she will eventually be housed alongside other lobsters. Although she will have her own tank due to her variety’s preference for a cold-water habitat.
Akron is also reportedly offering limited numbers of sponsorship packages to raise funds for the lobster’s care. For $50, fans will receive an adoption certificate, a picture of Clawdia, a lobster plushy – in blue, of course – and a list of facts about the creature. Meanwhile, donations will pay for medical bills, food and care for her habitat.