Oysters get a mention on the menus of many fine Oregon eating establishments, but according to Melissa Mayer and Maylin Chavez, our mollusk friends aren’t getting the attention they deserve.
Why? Well, because oysters are delicious, and Oregonians everywhere are being denied a highly pleasurable culinary experience. Oysters shouldn’t complement a meal; they should be the main act.
Luckily, our days of oyster deprivation may be over. Melissa and Maylin, two culinary powerhouses recently transplanted from San Diego, plan to open not just one oyster bar, but to populate the entire Pacific Coast. They sat down with OEN to tell us more:
The spark that inspired the birth of Olympia Oyster Bar: Olympia Oyster Bar was inspired by the desire to make oysters king. There are always oysters on the menu in seafood restaurants, but the Pacific Coast doesn’t really have oyster bars. We’re both obsessed with oysters, and we want to make them the center stage of the meal. We want people to come in and recognize that it’s about the oysters.
How you got where you are today:
Maylin: I’m from Tijuana, and the seafood on the Baja strip is one of the most amazing things I’ve experienced. My grandma is an incredible cook. She used to cater parties, and I’d tag along and cook with her. I have a graduate degree in completely unrelated fields—Psychology and Organizational Development. After working in high-level government management, I said, I’m going to make a drastic career change. So I went to culinary school and worked at a resort in Baja with phenomenal chefs, farmers, and growers. Eventually I started my own catering business. I met Melissa in San Diego, and we became attached at the hip. With our shared passion for oysters, we said, “This is perfect, let’s partner.” The rest is history.
Melissa: I’m from Wisconsin, so I didn’t get a lot of exposure to seafood outside of fishing on lakes with my father and brother. I moved to San Diego 18 years ago and the first trip I took was to La Fonda, where I had lobster on the ocean. It was the first time I experienced fresh seafood. I fell in love with seafood in the same place as Maylin, but a lot later in life. As a chef, I started a little later in life as well. I worked as an artist in my 20s, and to support myself I worked in restaurants. I was familiar with the restaurant landscape 10 years before becoming a chef. I started a restaurant from the ground up in San Diego, and I also started my own company, Martini Media. For us, moving to Portland to build the Olympia Oyster Bar is nothing short of significant, epic, and life-changing.
Why Oregon? We had some friends at Stargazer Farm in Sandy, who invited to farm to come tour it. Seeing the bounty and the beautiful ingredients being grown, and getting to know the passionate chefs and growers of Oregon really inspired us. We thought, this would be a perfect place to start our venture.
What sets you apart from your competition: We’re a Pacific Coast brand, and we want to honor Pacific Coast ingredients. Also, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. One of our taglines is: “Raw. Naked. Dressed.” Dressed oysters are our signature item, our “mascot,” if you will. They are what really distinguishes us from a typical oyster bar. Our dressings highlight, rather than mask, the oyster.
The best thing about being an entrepreneur: You have creative liberties. You set up a business plan, you have a foundation, but you can make adjustments as you see fit.
What you’ve learned so far as an entrepreneur: It’s a constant learning process. Every experience is different and presents its own unique challenges. You need to ensure that you have the proper resources available to you and the proper guidance from people who are more experienced than you. But you also have to be confident in yourself and make decisions that will benefit you.
You also have to differentiate yourself. You have to take a rough stone and create a pebble, you have to tell a unique story. You’re held to the flame much more intensely because it’s yours. That’s the difference between being an entrepreneur and being an employee.
Your most instructive failure: We thought we had found a space for our first oyster bar, and we were dreaming about this space and what we could do with it. We thought, wow, this could be something really great. We did our due diligence and when we made that decision not to go that route, we had already spent six months defining our concept around this singular space. We had tunnel vision. We learned that your business is not the space. You can’t rely on the space to be your business.
The best entrepreneurial advice you’ve received: When you’re confronting major hurdles or struggles, you seem to find people who give you exactly what you need. We recently received a text from a friend that we found helpful: “Just know that the opposite is always around the corner.”
What’s on the horizon: Starting on Tuesday, August 26, we’re introducing Olympia Oyster Bar as a brand at Yakuza, with future dates to be announced. It will be a pop-up oyster feast, featuring Sonoma ciders and Portlandia wine. We hope people in Portland will come join us and get to know our food!