From Bartender to Oyster Maven: Lindsay Allday

Oysters, with their enigmatic allure and briny mystique, have a way of leaving an indelible mark on those who fall under their spell. In this captivating Q&A blog post, we delve into the world of oysters through the eyes of Lindsay Allday, a true oyster aficionado. Her passion for these delectable mollusks has shaped her life’s journey. From Lindsay’s early memories of oysters to the pivotal moment when her passion transformed into a profession, her story is a unique testament to the profound connection we can form with nature’s gifts. Let’s explore Lindsay’s journey and the insights she offers into the ever-evolving oyster industry…

What sparked your initial interest in oysters? 

My love affair with oysters began at a young age. I vividly remember going to an oyster bar with my family when I was just seven years old. Somehow, they convinced me to try a raw oyster. Soon it became a tradition with my stepmom. We would have our girls’ day and enjoy oysters together.

When did oysters become a more significant part of your life?

My journey into the world of oysters took a more serious turn when I was working as a bartender. I spent 25 years in the front of the house at a restaurant and then I started working at an oyster bar. Bartenders there had to learn to shuck because they didn’t have a dedicated shucker for lunch service. I discovered I was pretty good at it from the get-go. However, the turning point came when a dear friend of mine, Becky, opened a company called “Two Girls One Shuck”, an all-lady shucking team. Under her mentorship, I delved deep into oyster farming and the science behind it. She took me to oyster farms and labs and allowed me to learn anything I wanted to. But the moment I knew I wanted to make this my full-time gig was when I was at an event with Becky and the team shucking oysters, and I was singing and dancing. It was at that moment that it hit me that I was genuinely happy, and that’s when I decided to pursue a career in the oyster world. I had a light bulb epiphany moment. I thought “This is hard work but, I’m literally having fun while I’m doing it” and I can remember thinking I definitely don’t sing and dance while I bartend. 

Could you share your transition from working with “Two Girls One Shuck” to where you are today?

After working with “Two Girls One Shuck,” circumstances changed when a spillway was opened to alleviate flooding in 2019, leading to a decline in Louisiana oyster availability, which impacted the company. Becky had to switch to using cultivated oysters from out of state and eventually closed the business. I returned to bartending but was soon presented with an opportunity by a mutual friend who convinced me to explore the oyster world further. This friend handed me a business card for the opening of an oyster bar, Sidecar Patio & Oyster Bar (Sidecar),  and it was a shocking moment because I had previously seen the hiring announcement but couldn’t relocate the bar to explore the opportunity more. So that moment was like fate. I called the owner and we talked on the phone for hours and it felt familial. He shared all his dreams with me about bringing a different oyster experience to New Orleans, and I was on board. He allowed me to create the oyster bar I wanted to see.

Fast forward to where I am now, another mutual friend, Tim Bordes, opened a food company in 2019, similar to Sysco, but with all local fresh products, called JV Foods. About a year ago he reached out, acknowledging my work at Sidecar, and asked me to do what I’ve done at Sidecar on a large scale at his company. It took about 8 months for him to convince me to leave Sidecar. I had put so much love and intention into it that it was the hardest ending to a job that I’ve ever had because I loved it. As a matter of fact, I still talk to them almost every day. Anyway, he was finally able to convince me to join them and with 25 years of experience in restaurants, I decided that was a good number to close that chapter on.

Can you explain your current role and what you’re building for JV Foods?

So, JV Foods is a local fine foods purveyor that brings in high-quality produce like wagyu, crabmeat, scallops, and now oysters, all from the Gulf South area. My role involves developing an oyster distribution program and having created so many relationships with farmers, I had an advantage there.

I started close to home, so I work with farmers from Mississippi to Florida, and soon I’ll be bringing on a Louisiana farmer. My goal is to support these farmers, get their oysters to the market, and ensure they receive fair compensation. We have brought in a few upper East Coast oysters, but we really want to keep it focused on the underserved oyster regions and build meaningful connections in the industry. 

So if you look at other vendors that used to be my vendors before I was their competition, they focus a lot on Alabama because they were kind of the first to cultivate popular oysters like Murder Point. However, there are farms in Louisiana and Mississippi that have beautiful oysters and are struggling to distribute them. A lot of them are distributing their own oysters. So they’re kind of burning themselves at both ends. They’re working on their farms, which is such grueling hard work, and distributing the oysters themselves. They sort, clean, and bag their oysters, then they bring them to the city and drive them from restaurant to restaurant. So I want to help them get their oysters to the market, be fair, and get them the money that they want, need, and deserve. So, sure I could order from other vendors’ lists because I know the popular oysters, but there are other farms with beautiful oysters and I prefer our program to be relationship-based. It’s so much more special if I have a relationship with a farm. When a farmer can meet our customers and I can go and fly to their farm, it’s a more meaningful experience all the way around.

Are there any trends or changes that you’ve noticed in the oyster industry that you have a unique perspective on? 

Absolutely. I think people are moving towards smaller oysters, which is different because specifically people in this region that are from what we call down the bayou, which is just like the more bayou parts of Louisiana, want a larger oyster because in their minds they want more meat for their money and they will say, “give me your big ones.” A lot of them are an older generation, like the boomer generation and they’ll fuss at you if you bring them small cultivated oysters. Then I see that people in my generation and the younger generation want fancy, small, clean, pretty oysters. But I get it, there’s an oyster for everybody.

How has your personal life been influenced by your passion for oysters?

Oysters have left their mark on my personal life in many ways. I often find oyster shells in unexpected places, like the middle of the woods, or arranged artfully on a levy wall, which feels like signs reminding me of my path. I’ve also formed friendships that will last a lifetime through the oyster world, and these connections have been incredibly meaningful to me. Also, shucking oysters helped me gain confidence. When I moved to New Orleans at  25 years old, I was not the person I am today, and I believe that I really found my confidence through this entire experience.

What makes specific things about oysters make them unique or special to you?

I think oysters are just generally unique because every single one is different. They are the snowflakes of the ocean. Their shells are beautiful like artwork and they’re so gratifying to open.

Additionally, they do so much for the earth and provide a lot of nutrients for such a tiny food. 

I do want to share that I prefer to shuck a cultivated oyster over a wild oyster. You can really fly through them. A friend timed me and I was opening them every three and a half seconds. They’re uniform and your knife will go in the same place every time. Wild oysters are a little bit more of a puzzle, which is fun, and I don’t want to totally knock them because that’s what I learned to shuck first and that’s what I grew up eating, but I have definitely grown an appreciation for cultivated oysters in the last decade.

Q8: Do you have any unique ways you like to enjoy oysters?

I enjoy getting creative with mignonettes. These acidic sauces enhance the flavor of oysters and firm up the meat. I was able to do a lot of experimenting as Sidecar with various ingredients and it was a lot of fun. It was also fun for guests to try. They would come in and ask, “What’s your mignonette this week?” 

I’m also a fan of charbroiled oysters. Who doesn’t love cheese, butter, and garlic? They’re actually regionally specific here in New Orleans. They came from the Croatian people that settled here, so that style is Mediterranean. 

Additionally, I think that if you are imbibing, shell shots are a really fun way to enjoy oysters. So what you do is, eat the meat, and then you pour a little bit of spirit in with the brine and then shoot it from the shell, and it just opens up the oyster flavors. 

But, honestly, there’s still nothing quite like a freshly shucked raw oyster with a dash of hot sauce and a squeeze of lemon

Q9: Lastly, do you have any big oyster dreams or goals? 

I have a lot. I want to get the band back together. I would love to open another lady oyster shucking company here. The women that I was surrounded with in that company, like I said, really helped me find my confidence. So one day I would love to get that going again. 

I also would really love to unionize shuckers because a lot of times they are underpaid for a myriad of reasons. People look at it as menial labor when really it’s a high trade. It takes time,  patience, and practice to learn it, do it well, and do it efficiently without hurting yourself. 

With that, I would also like to see a trade school open in this region because it’s a dying trade. Every restaurant that I know that has an oyster bar, especially those with cultivated oysters, needs more people. I think that it is a solid job. The going rate for a shucker in New Orleans right now is $20 an hour plus tips. Imagine if all shuckers were paid that. That’s a job where someone could get out of school and build a life.

There are a lot of trade schools that funnel people into oyster farming. But now that we are at this place in the industry where we have a ton of farms, there are not a lot of farmhands to help the farmers and there are not a lot of people to shuck and sell the oysters on the other end of it. So, I think a trade school is something that’s just needed if the industry is going to keep growing. As the industry grows, we have to train people and teach them about oysters. For example, you handle different oysters in different ways. If you go in a small oyster the same as a wild oyster, that’s as big as your hand, you’re gonna destroy it. And that’s just a small part of what shuckers need to learn.

From Lindsay’s oyster-filled lens, we’ve seen how a simple taste can transform into a lifelong passion. As she continues to shape the oyster industry and empower farmers, we’re reminded that in the world of oysters, there’s always room for new flavors and fresh possibilities. May her experiences inspire you to explore your own unique culinary and life adventures.

“Don’t give up. Keep on shucking.” – Lindsay Allday

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