Although Doug Botsford and Sean Morin became friends during long overlapping stints at the Gandy Dancer, Ann Arbor’s storied seafood house in a historic railroad station, it took moving away from Michigan to spark the idea for Juicy Oistre.
As Botsford tells it, his epiphany came while working as the assistant general manager at Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, a stalwart seafood restaurant in Denver with “an unbelievable menu and culture.”
Despite the high level of execution and creativity on the plate at the restaurant, guests would come in and complain that a particular dish wasn’t exactly like their mother made it or how they remembered it during their travels to X, Y, or Z.
“We all have these nostalgic memories that we’re attached to,” Botsford explains. “We’re trying not to fight with people’s nostalgia.”
During a quick getaway with Morin to New Orleans, where mornings would start with dozens of freshly shucked oysters and long conversations with their shuckers, the concept of Juicy Oistre (pronounced “oy-stray”) was born.
“We fell in love with the idea of how simple it is,” Botsford says. “An oyster is this singular little package, like a present, that there’s nothing like in the world. And you either like it or you don’t and each one is its own special experience. Michigan having all these wonderful coastlines but no direct access to seafood or saltwater fish, we wanted to bring back this experience back to Ann Arbor.”
There were more detours along the way, namely to the Pacific Northwest, where Botsford developed key relationships with shellfish and oyster farmers Juicy Oistre maintains to this day.
Then the pandemic hit and a few months later Botsford returned to Ann Arbor to pivot Juicy Oistre in a new direction. The pair had already built an oyster cart they’d planned to pop-up at local bars and restaurants that summer. But when those all closed amid the COVID-induced dining room shutdown, Juicy Oistre went mobile instead, setting up in a 1976 AM General Step Van ice cream truck. At their first pop-up, held in Morin’s own driveway, the pair moved through $1,200 worth of chilled seafood, and the buzz has been growing ever since.
“Oysters are like a little present with a beautiful story and unique identity presented to you,” Botsford says. “Once you’ve opened it, you get what you get. It’s literally what mother nature created. And it’s up to the consumer to know whether they like it or not. Our only job is to exploit that and showcase it. It’s this beautiful food that we don’t have to do much to — just educate the consumer on.”
Catch Juicy Oistre at FRAMEbar March 9 through April 3, and follow @JuicyOistre on Instagram for updates on future pop-ups around southeast Michigan.