First time restaurateurs Larry Lau and Waylon Sharp are getting close to launching a new oyster bar concept at 227 East Pender St. in the heart of Chinatown.
The new spot, called Shuck Shuck, is neatly sandwiched between Mello Bakery and the Umaluma vegan gelato shop on the ground floor of the neighbourhood’s new “Framework” condo development. It is the first business to open in this particular space, which amounts to just less than a thousand square feet. Here’s the thing: when it opens later this month it will be unlike any oyster bar to have ever operated in Vancouver (or anywhere else that I’m aware of).
The idea for Shuck Shuck is a cool one, and I’ll get to it in a sec. It first came to Larry and Waylon when they were both MBA students at Western University’s Ivey Business School. These was back in 2017, which might as well be a thousand years ago. They were looking for something to reinvent for a project and they settled on a facet of life they both loved, the traditional oyster bar. It was a challenge that they really enjoyed, but after graduation their careers took them in different directions, pulling Larry to become a serial entrepreneur and Waylon to run a network of food testing labs for Bureau Veritas. They reunited last year to make their original conceptual collaboration a reality, securing the space with an eye to open in April, 2020. A global pandemic then intervened, and here we are…
So what is Shuck Shuck? From what I gathered in my interview with the duo yesterday, it really is a completely different approach to the bivalve. Instead of offering a variety of oysters from both coasts (from adorable Kusshis to plump Misty Points) they are sourcing just one type – the Pacific oyster (aka Miyagi) – which has been singled out for them by their sole supplier, Vancouver Island’s Evening Cove. That might seem weird, especially to the horrified oyster aficionados reading this, but Shuck Shuck is using oysters as a flavour delivery vehicle, much like bread, topping them with themed ingredient combinations instead of fetishizing them for all their naked and diversely slurp-worthy glory (as has been universally standard since the beginning of time, regardless of Rockefeller’s best efforts). They have developed well over 50 different themed topping combos, but will launch with 8 to 10 different options on the menu, which will glow above the counter-service bar.
Making the concept all the more radical is the room’s seating plan, which is to say there really isn’t one. Instead, guests are greeted by a pair of gorgeously curved and thin high-top tables (without stools) that snake around the space and allow for patrons to pair up, four up, even six up with moveable Covid partitions. (If the tables – made by BCA Architects in Toronto – were straightened out, they’d be 64 feet long!) That’s it. No corner cloisters. No zinc bar. No mirrored display case filled with ice. It will be licensed, with canned beer (Parellel 49), canned cocktails (Muddlers), and canned wine (TBD, but I’m crossing my fingers for Joiefarm’s A Noble Blend). It might feel a little odd to experience for the first time, but we’re human so we’ll get the hang of it fast.
It’s refreshing to see first-time restaurateurs come at something so obliquely. Frankly, I’m perfectly fine with the classic Rodney’s, Fanny Bay, Joe Fortes, Boulevard approach to the appreciation of the oyster; shucking and serving ’em clean with maybe a dash of tabasco, a splash of mignonette or a shower of horseradish. What’s not to love? Even if the oyster bar is ripe for the renewal that Shuck Shuck is betting it is, I’d wager the purists – the people who would rather oysters remained entirely unfucked with – won’t deign to darken Shuck Shuck’s door. But I reckon these same people are hugely outnumbered by those who have never enjoyed an oyster because it seemed too weird, too old school, too fancy or too much like a strange cult that – because of their gastronomic virginity – intimidated them from ever saying ‘yes’ when an oyster was offered to them. There’s room for a business there to boom, and maybe, just maybe, this is it.
Shuck Shuck softly opens this weekend to gently test systems. They expect to officially open on October 16th. Take a look inside…