By Carey London
Sustainability and transparency are not words often associated with the seafood industry. But aquaculturalist Donna Lanzetta and restaurateur Ryunosuke Jesse Matsuoka are working to change that.
Combining their respective expertise, they have joined together to open a unique concept restaurant/fish farming facility at an iconic waterfront dining spot in Southampton. Formerly The Lobster Inn, the new adaptation, Manna at Lobster Inn featuring sustainable seafood, opening June 10.
“It just made sense for both of us to take this on,” said Matsuoka, who also runs Sen and K Pasa in Sag Harbor.
The aquaculture operation will sit adjacent to the restaurant.
“We’ve been working on a plan to build a number of hatchery buildings and an education center… which will include an outdoor picnic area,” said Lanzetta, CEO and founder of Manna Fish Farms. The hatcheries will eventually produce seafood they can showcase in the restaurant.
Manna is striving to become one of the first U.S. permitted open ocean finfish farms in federal waters. The company has two offshore permits pending, one of which is for a site located 8.6 miles south of the Shinnecock Inlet in Hampton Bays. Once the permits are secured, Manna operations will commence using the latest in submersible net pen technology. The offshore cages will be populated, in part, with fingerlings grown in its Southampton hatchery.
Meanwhile, the restaurant will act as a megaphone to support local seafood and sustainable seafood practices.
“We want to be able to educate through all senses — through eating it, hearing about it and smelling it,” Matsuoka said.
The unique partnership between these two entrepreneurs formed after a serendipitous introduction.
“Donna and I met many years ago [through] a close acquaintance that felt we both had this drive for changing the world of seafood for positivity, transparency and sustainability,” Matsuoka said. “What was supposed to be a quick little meeting … turned out to be hours of talking about our passion.”
Inspired by that conversation, he joined on to become a founding member of Manna Fish Farms as well as a partner with the restaurant.
Manna at Lobster Inn sits on a property that was acquired in a collaborative purchase in 2018. The Town of Southampton bought the marina, the Manna Restaurant Group purchased the restaurant, and the fish farm bought the land across from the restaurant, selling back the development rights on that farmland to the town.
“I believe this is the first property where we purchased development rights for aquaculture,” said Lisa Kombrink, the Community Preservation Fund manager for the Town of Southampton.
The Lobster Inn was a longtime local favorite and its red façade served as an unofficial landmark, signaling the end of Sunrise Highway and the beginning of County Road 39 and the East End.
The new owners are preserving key parts of its history, including a fresh coat of that same hallmark red, while giving other parts a much-needed revision. Along with new kitchen equipment and facilities, the walls went from dark brown to a brighter blue and white, complementing the water views that encompass this 198-seat restaurant.
There is indoor and outdoor seating, a lounge, and a full bar incorporating a raw bar with an ice display for freshly prepared seafood. Guests have a choice between casual dining on the main floor or a more formal dining experience on the second floor. There is also a private dining room that can be rented out.
Executive Chef Thomas Bogia, formerly the sous chef at Sen, serves an eclectic menu, with a combination of sustainably farmed product from around the world as well as seafood by local fishermen and fish farmers. Appetizers range in price from $9 to $16 and include double-infused shrimp scampi and charred Cobb salad. Entrees range from $24 to $32 and include lobster rolls, sushi, and a notable trout carbonara, a version of a classic alfredo without pancetta and served with trout roe atop pasta.
Other standouts include lobster bisque ramen, a nod to the popular ramen dish served at Sen, as well as the Splat, a signature seafood boil from the former Lobster Inn, featuring lobster, clams, shrimp, snow crab, mussels, Andouille sausage, corn and potatoes.
The restaurant also makes a point to serve underutilized species, including porgy, skate and sea robin, “because we think that’s more sustainable,” Lanzetta said. While abundant, these fish are considered bi-catch and often thrown back.
“It’s a little more [prep] work but [sea robin is] a perfectly fine fish and we’re proud to be able to serve it up and showcase it in different ways,” Matsuoka added.
To further their promise of transparency, Manna is building a seafood blockchain with IBM. Best known for its role in cryptocurrency, a blockchain is used to securely record information and transactions. In that same vein, the seafood blockchain will track product from commercial fishing vessels or fish farms through the distribution process to the end user — in this case, the restaurant. Details as small as the temperature seafood was kept in during its distribution will be recorded. “It will ensure the traceability of the product,” Lanzetta said. In other words, “It is what we say it is.”
Montauk oysters will be the first of the blockchain products guests will find on the menu. A QR code will allow diners to learn the origin story of a product, from the fishermen or farmers who caught or grew it, to how it was handled in transit, to its condition upon arrival.
“We all want to know that we’re doing the right thing by the environment and by the industry,” Lanzetta added. “There’s a great deal of fraud in the industry and we don’t want to be a part of it, and we think this is a new era for seafood.”
Manna at Lobster Inn is located at 5 Inlet Road in Southampton and will be open seven days a week in season for lunch, brunch and dinner. Call 631-728-5555 or visit mannarestaurant.com.