Growing up on Nantucket, Dana Spring was no stranger to feasting on the spoils of the sea. Seafood, shellfish – there was no shortage of scintillating, salty delicacies on the quiet island 30 miles off the mainland. But it wasn’t until she was a young adult that Dana had her first oyster. From then on, she knew there was just something special about the little, sweet, meaty mollusk. Together with her husband Mark, in between owning and operating Newport’s Marshall Slocum Inn, Dana introduced southern New England to Open Oyster this past April, an on-demand raw bar catering experience for private events with oysters and shellfish shucked to order.
What percentage of those who saunter on up to the Open Oyster raw bar are oyster aficionados and what percentage are curious newbies?
Why oysters? Why now?
I had seen someone do the same thing when I was a kid and I liked the raw bar catering concept. It looked like a really fun thing to do when I grew up. I’ve loved all seafood from the time I was little. I love all food too – there’s no food I don’t like. But I had my first oyster as an adult and I loved it. Even more so, I like how much other people like them. Later, when I realized how important oysters are to our waters and the ecosystem, I knew it was the way I wanted to give back environmentally.
I think it’s 50/50. Half of our guests have been eating oysters all their lives and know their favorites and the other half are excited to enjoy it for the first time in a party setting. It’s really fun to enjoy a raw bar. People that surround the boat have a great time and are always happy to be eating and experiencing it.
How many varieties of oysters do you serve?
We usually have two to three varieties at each party; it’s a good taste testing. But it all depends on what the host wants and if they have a favorite. We’ll always have at least one local oyster variety on the bar, one type that is wild and another that is farm-raised.
The old adage about fresh oysters is that they taste the best only during months that end in the letter “r.” What say you?
Well, the colder the water, the sweeter the oyster. I think December delivers the best oysters because they are getting ready to go into hibernation and many of their nutrients have turned into sugars, so they’re real sweet.
Like children, I’m sure it’s hard to pick a favorite (or is it?), but what is your go-to oyster?
I really love Umamis from Quonset, the Matunucks from Perry [Raso] at Matunuck Oyster Bar and Island Creek Oysters from Duxbury, MA.
You’re half a year in. Where would you like to take Open Oyster from here?
I’d like to see the business grow. I would like to be able to do more than one party a night and venture out to clients out of state. It’s going ten times better than I even imagined and eventually I’d like to send teams out, but right now I go to each event – I want them to be perfect.