Armed with nothing but a barrel, fresh oysters, knives and some ice, Eddie Rideout and Andrew Gilbutowicz are serving the raw, slimy seafood everywhere from birthday parties to local restaurants.
The friends started the Wayfarer Oyster Bar catering company last October.
Rideout compares himself and his business partner to troubadours.
“We’ve got oyster knives and a bunch of oysters, we stop at the Deck at the High Country and then go to someone’s patio for their birthday on Saturday and then on the Sunday we can leave and drive to Dawson.”
For obvious reasons, freshness matters when it comes to serving raw oysters on the half shell.
“We’re in the Yukon and obviously there aren’t any oysters growing anywhere in the territory – if there is, I advise not eating them – but we are very close to Alaskan seafood,” Gilbutowicz says.
The pair is constantly picking up fresh oysters flown into the territory, often, they say, the day after they have been harvested.
Alaskan product comes from Haines Packing Co.
“There is that kind of tight connection to where they’re actually being grown and I think that is definitely translated to whoever is eating them for sure. They can definitely feel that,” Gilbutowicz says.
Most of their events have three or four different types of oysters to taste, sometimes from B.C. or Alaska and sometimes from the east coast.
That provides a variety of tastes and textures. Rideout says it’s a big mistake to think all oysters are the same.
“It’s like thinking all beer tastes the same or all coffee tastes the same,” he says.
“If you talk to anybody who’s a beer geek or a coffee nerd and tell them that everything is the same, there are people who could come in here and talk to you for 40 minutes about the four coffees that are sitting right there.”
Gilbutowicz says meeting people who have never tried an oyster before is part of the fun. Not everyone is enthusiastic about the prospect of slurping raw seafood, but he says Wayfarer has a way of winning over skeptics.
When someone has reservations, “it’s probably because they’ve had it somewhere at some restaurant, they’ve come out of the back of the house, they’ve been on a plate with no ice or something like that,” says Gilbutowicz. “Whoever has served it to them has no idea where they’re from, how they’re farmed and how fresh they are.
“So by having oysters on the half shell just off of ice with someone right in front of you opening them who knows exactly what they should be saying to you to coax you into it is much more of an enjoyable experience.”
The service already has a growing fan base.
At the Atlin music festival last weekend they shucked and served 850 oysters. Twenty-two people had never tried them before.
The oldest newbie was in her 50s and the youngest was five.
“He ate three of his dad’s oysters and his dad had to get four more,” Rideout says.
Rideout and Gilbutowicz met in Iqaluit in 2008. Gilbutowicz represented Nunavut in two Canadian Chefs’ Congresses.
But the two friends credit their love of the oyster to time spent at land-locked Ottawa’s renowned restaurant, The Whalesbone Oyster House.
After moving there for school, Gilbutowicz spent four years working at the restaurant. He cooked, catered, shucked and competed in oyster-shucking competitions – placing seventh in a national competition one year, for shucking 18 oysters in two minutes and one second.
“I’d been going there the whole year I was in grad school. I’d just go there and hang out and have beers and oysters and food,” Rideout said.
They say the restaurant – run by Joshua Bishop and Peter McCallum – has turned out about a dozen former employees who have gone on to create their own oyster businesses all over the country using the techniques they learned there.
“There’s three steps to the oyster process, there’s the farmer, there’s the purveyor or the expert that knows how to shuck them and then there’s the person to eat them,” Gilbutowicz says.
Rideout moved to the Yukon three years ago and Gilbutowicz came last year.
He’s from King’s Point, a small Newfoundland town with a population of 500. Gilbutowicz is from London, Ont.
Both say you don’t have to live near water to appreciate good seafood.
“There is a thing where those landlocked places, I think, when they get those products that come from either coast, they’re going to treat them with a great amount of care and they’re willing to pay a good amount of money for them,” Gilbutowicz says.
Right now they’re enjoying the mobility of the tiny business they’ve created but haven’t ruled out a brick-and-mortar location in the future, Rideout says.
“We do envision sometime in the future, if there’s an opportunity in Whitehorse, if we find the right location, maybe considering an oyster bar/sustainable seafood kind of small restaurant, but we’re not going to race into anything.”
More information about Wayfarer Oyster Bar can be found on its Facebook page.
Contact Ashley Joannou at