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08/29/2023 10:55 AM

Gardner Looking to Get Things Cooking at Lobster Festival

Andrew Gardner moved to Chester 11 years ago and then joined the Chester Rotary five years later. Now, Andrew is one of the co-chairs of the Chester Rotary Lobster Festival, which is taking place on Saturday, Sept. 9. Photo courtesy of Andrew Gardner

A good meal is its own reward, but at the upcoming Chester Rotary Lobster Festival, a good meal will also provide a chance for people to support the rotary’s community projects.

According to Andrew Gardner, one of the co-chairs of the event at the Chester Fairgrounds on Saturday, Sept. 9, the past several years have seen changes to the format of the Lobster Festival designed to eliminate long wait times on the service line. Now, diners sign up for a time to pick up their meals between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. There are slots every half hour.

“That way nobody is waiting too long, and the food is always hot,” Andrew says.

There are two options for dining. People can pick up food and take it out or eat at the site. Picking up meals began as an adaptation for COVID-19, but the practice proved popular and has since continued. Andrew himself is a wrapper as one of the rotary members who packages up the dinners for takeout.

Dinner is either a 1.5-pound lobster or a 12-ounce steak with corn, baked potato, coleslaw, and rolls. Andrew says all the food is purchased locally at Adams Hometown Market in Deep River. According to Andrew, the biggest increases for food purchases this year have not been in the main course, but rather in the trimmings.

“Butter and sour cream,” he says.

There are picnic tables for on-site diners, and people can also bring their own chairs. There are no time-slot restrictions on how long people can stay. Cherry Pie, a Connecticut group that features both instrumentalists and vocals, will play music from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

“Everybody can stick around for the music,” Andrew says.

Andrew says that this year the Chester Rotary, while not aiming for an entirely compostable event, is making an effort to purchase compostable serving ware.

“That way when they go to a landfill, they will compost more easily,” he explains.

Andrew joined the Rotary Club six years ago after picking up a flyer at the Chester Sunday Market. In addition to working on the Lobster Festival, he also encouraged the Chester Rotary’s participation in preparing meals four or five times a year for the Shoreline Soup Kitchen at the United Church of Chester on Sunday evenings. Meal service at the Soup Kitchen dinner is still take-out rather than a sit-down. Andrew says that he has recently noticed more young families picking up meals.

Andrew moved to Chester 11 years ago and says that he couldn’t have purchased his house at a more opportune time.

“It was the market’s lowest point, the lowest prices, and the lowest interest rate,” he says. “It was the right time.”

In fact, he bought the house when he was still single. Andrew married seven years ago, and he and his wife Kaitlin, an occupational therapist with a Hartford Hospital facility, share their view of Chester Creek with three small white dogs, two Chinese cresteds, and a bichon mix.

Andrew knew very little about Chester when he first moved there, but he is now a member of the Board of Finance, as well as a former treasurer of the rotary.

“This is a unique community, a great place to live” he says.

Andrew grew up in Woodstock as the oldest of three children. He jokes that he was his parents’ test case for parenting. That included strict rules about his diet.

“I don’t think I had a cookie until I was 8 years old,” he says.

As a youngster, Andrew was featured in a local newspaper story because he had read all the young-adult books in the Woodstock library. Actually, Andrew says that his reading would go even further.

“I would rotate, go to different libraries,” he says.

Andrew is a graduate of the University of Connecticut, where he took a course from fellow Chester Rotary member Ted Taigen, who is now retired, but was then a biology professor. Taigen is also one of the co-chairs working on the Lobster Festival, along with Steve Cline.

During his senior year, Andrew spent one semester in Florence, Italy, in a program emphasizing architecture, which was his major. He did not, however, become an architect. Andrew graduated from college in 2005, just as the subprime mortgage crises was triggering a financial meltdown.

“Economic conditions were not good for an architect,” he recalls.

Instead, Andrew’s career path took a different direction: finance. He is now an independent wealth manager. Andrew says it’s a field that had always interested him. He remembers a toy set his father bought him as a child that involved a farm and buying and selling. It came with a checkbook. Andrew used the book to write a play-money million-dollar check to his first grade teacher.

“I hope he doesn’t read this story and try to cash it,” he says.

At the Lobster Festival, Andrew does something that happens only once a summer: He eats a lobster. It’s not that he doesn’t like lobsters; it’s just that he doesn’t like the preparation. However, the Lobster Festival does that for him.

“It’s trouble. You have to boil it, cook it in a pot,” he says.

For the rest of the time, Andrew has another solution.

“I eat lobster rolls,” he says.

The rotary members’ work is not done when the Lobster Festival ends. The follow-up comes at the fairgrounds on the morning of the next day.

“There’s cleanup,” Andrew says. “That’s when the heavy lifting really begins.”

Chester Rotary Lobster Festival

Saturday, Sept. 9

at the Chester Fairgrounds

No tickets will be sold at the event.

Purchase tickets online at