SeaFood Business

JUN 2014

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Page 28 of 46

24 SeaFood Business June 2014 Visit us online at To p Story oyster-related illnesses and controls inherent to oyster farming yield a cleaner, and less gritty product. Tristano says oysters have achieved that hallowed halo of fresh- ness and are healthful, natu- ral and sustainable. "Tose are all on-trend and lend to their appeal." Seeing is believing, he adds. "We're seeing more shucking out in the open, which gives guests the chance to see and smell it. When you see an oyster bar in an establishment, they be- come top of mind." Te drive to serve oysters comes mostly from growth at midscale and quick service operations (QSR), according to Datassential MenuTrends. Oyster QSR menu penetra- tion increased from 2.6 to 2.9 percent of restaurants from 2009 to 2013, while midscale operators saw 8.6 percent penetration in 2009 and 9.1 percent last year. Ken Berry, owner of Blue- fn Seafoods in Louisville, Ky., says oysters have become an afordable protein so good that customers can choose them as an alternative to fn- fsh and even beef. "You can have several choices and the price will still be less than a piece of swordfsh or a steak," Berry says. Tree years ago, he was moving 40 cases of oysters weekly through his opera- tion, but now he's selling 200 per week. "Good oysters are in vogue. It looks good on a menu when describing where they're from. Like wine, where they're grown infu- ences their favors." And when paired with wine, that favor is even more marketable. Tim Parsons, VP of sales and marketing at Cherrystone Aqua Farms in Cheriton, Va., says many of his restaurant clients are pairing wines with oysters. "We're seeing restaurants serving a fight of wines and a fight of oysters matched on the favor profle of both," Parson says. "If there's a wine tasting happening, you're going to fnd more oysters paired with those wines." Robin Song, executive chef at Hog & Rocks, a cured ham and oyster res- taurant in San Francisco, serves an average of six types of oysters on the menu simultaneously, blending West Coast and East Coast options. Prices can be as low as $1.50 an oyster during happy hour, and rise to $5 each for Belon oysters har- vested of the coast of Massa- chusetts by deep-sea divers. "Belons have to be plucked by hand, bound and shipped here," says Song, who sells West Coast Kumamotos for $4 each. "Belons are not available year round and are hard to get, but they're on trend, so we can charge what we do." Complicating supply and cost issues was this year's long and harsh winter, which meant waters were cold lon- ger than usual. Tat kept oysters from feeding until late spring, and when oysters don't feed, they don't grow. Tat slowdown will delay the summer harvest by sev- eral weeks, sources say, which is potentially bad news for Harding Lee Smith, chef- owner, Boone's Fish House & Oyster Room in Portland, Maine. Rising oyster costs are chewing up his bottom line (see NetWorking, page 40, for interview with Smith). "Tey're expensive. Tey're $1.50 to $2.50, our cost," Smith says. Winter- point oysters used to cost 85 cents each, he says now they're $1.75. "Older folks will come in and see our oyster card and say, '$3.75, what's that for, six?' No, that's for one. We mark it up three times, so we're at 33 percent, which is actually a high food cost for something like that." Brennan's Bitterman is anticipating price increases for Gulf oysters, but not because of supply issues. "From May to October, boats will now have one hour to get their oysters refrigerat- ed after harvesting," she says. "I've been on a lot of oyster boats, and I can tell you they can't dredge and get back to the dock in one hour. So they'll have to retroft their boats and get refrigeration on board, and that will cost everybody." Song has not experienced oyster supply issues, but he believes that's part of "the nature of San Francisco as a seafood town. You just expect it's going to be here and it is." And while he serves some of his oysters barbecued, "95 percent of what we sell is raw. It's what people like." Parsons says his clients are on allocation, though many have ofered to pay more to get more. He keeps promis- ing his clients to hold on un- til late June, when supplies should increase. "We have to take care of people who buy oysters from us year round by maintain- ing those relationships," he says. "Our oysters aren't go- ing to the highest bidder." Patrick McMurray, owner of the Starfsh Oyster Bed & Grill in Toronto, has import- ed oysters from as far away as New Zealand to fll out his list of six live choices. Te res- taurant shucks about 5,500 oysters weekly for its custom- ers, but the winter tightened Atlantic oyster supplies. "Tere are always fuctua- tions in gas costs and dollar exchanges to deal with, so I have to fex around and buy from diferent places where they're available," said Mc- Murray, a world-champion oyster shucker. "I'm also buying from Europe, so it's kind of an art form to man- age it all." McMurray credits retail oyster sales with some of their overall surging popu- larity. Ordinary folk are shucking them at home, he says, because they're aford- able and they can watch You- Tube videos to learn how to shuck properly. "It's a new and small "Good oysters are in vogue. It looks good on a menu when describing where they're from. Like wine, where they're grown influences their flavors." — Ken Berry, owner, Bluefn Seafoods Continued on page 37 22_24 Top story june sfb.indd 24 5/16/14 11:10 AM

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