If there’s one thing the Wayfarer Oyster House wants you to know, it’s that you don’t have to eat oysters when you go there.
It’s not that the restaurant has had a problem selling Whitehorse on the idea — the popularity of what was once a pop-up dining experience is what led Wayfarer partners, Andrew Seymour, Eddie Rideout and Brian Ng to open a physical location. Still, says Seymour, oysters aren’t all that’s on the menu. And actually, the menu is only part of the point of the visit.
“It’s also about the experience too, right?” says Ng, sitting in the restaurant the week after its Nov. 2 soft opening.
“It’s a different restaurant experience,” agrees Seymour, who learned about oysters working at the Whalesbone, an Ottawa oyster house. “You’re not just serving, or you’re not just knowing your wines, or you’re not just in the back cooking or filleting and butchering meat. There is a direct relationship, immediately front of house, with the customer. You’re in front of them, you’re opening the oyster.”
Though, he reiterates – the oysters, from both the west and east coast, are just a calling card.
The rest of the menu is small and shareable. A few mains, specials and desserts will rotate every one or two weeks, and the standard menu will change depending on the season. Right now, it includes a cheese platter with roasted grapes, roasted bone marrow with sourdough, mussels, beets in a lemon and poppy seed crème fraîche, kale salad with brown butter vinaigrette, and more.
Sitting at the same table and talking, each of the three Wayfarers focusses on something that seems to reflect where they came from in terms of restaurant experience.
Seymour, who worked at the Whalesbone, talks about the wine, the beer, the vibe and the feel of the space.
Ng grew up cooking for himself, watching the food network and eventually working every position you’ll find at a restaurant. He leans forward and talks about how oysters have different tastes in the same way wines do.
Rideout worked for years at a bar in Newfoundland, and almost bought one out east before moving to the Yukon. He grins and says that anyone who’s known him for more than two days knows Wayfarer is “just an excuse to throw a party every night.”
So each brings something different to the proverbial table, though they didn’t start out as a trio.
In 2015, Seymour was flying solo, offering oysters via catering and in-house events. Rideout came on and started smoking fish as an addition. Eventually Ng heard about the venture and asked to be part of it.
“I came up to them like a nervous guy going up to a girl at prom asking her to dance and I was like ‘hey, I wanna shuck’ and they replied with ‘yes,’” he says.
Wayfarer went on to offer pop-ups at Baked Cafe. They served oysters at Winterlong Brewery and the Woodcutters Blanket. There was the odd festival, and night at Bombay Peggy’s in Dawson. The goal, though, was always to open a permanent spot. The right place just didn’t come up until early in 2018.
From the outside, Wayfarer looks industrial. At one time, the cinderblock building on 6th Ave. was — it used to house Griffith’s Heating and Sheet Metal.
Inside, Rideout flashes a photo of what the space looked like in January when they started working on it. A long rectangular room painted white, it was, they say, a blank canvas.
Today it’s painted white and a dark steely blue. There are long tables for large groups and smaller tables tucked in corners. The long wooden bar has a backsplash tiled in white and French blue. The floor is polished concrete, and a window into the kitchen is visible from almost every seat in the house. A chandelier hangs from the middle of the high ceiling, dripping with strings, not of crystals, but oyster shells, some painted gold, glinting in the ambient light. It’s cozy, but open, and on its first night operating, it was full.
“Friday was a zoo,” says Ng of the soft open. Rideout cuts him off.
“If I may, Brian, can we say Friday was a bit of a celebration instead of a zoo? Whitehorse was really excited and a lot of friends showed up to celebrate the opening of this restaurant … ” he starts, but Ng shakes his head and cuts him off.
“Oh man, it was a zoo. If there was a Tarzan rope, people would (have been) swinging from it.”
There was definitely bottled-up excitement in the city. Wayfarer was scheduled to open over the summer, but Rideout says, it suffered the same trades deficit everyone does in trying to ready a building — it was tough to book skilled tradespeople.
They agree it’s worked out well though. Opening in November gives them time to get their feet under them before the holiday season.
Right now, Wayfarer is open Thursday to Saturday, from 4 p.m. to around 10 or 11 p.m. for the kitchen. Beginning the week of Nov. 12, it opens Wednesday to Sunday nights.
The restaurant will begin taking reservations in January 2019.
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org