We sit down with Juliet Totten to talk about her movement to bring the oysters to the people
by Matt Domino
Since 2007, Juliet Totten has embraced society's current entrepreneurial spirit as the co-owner and founder of the wedding decoration company Poppies and Posies. Building on the success of that venture, Totten decided to broaden her business scope by starting Cabin Cove Oysters, an oyster garden in South Bristol, Maine, which takes to the street on the Shuck Truck—a traveling Airstream trailer from which she and her business partner, Michael McAllister, serve fresh oysters—theirs and other local farmers'—with a variety of different sauces.
We sat down with Totten to learn more about her creative business spirit and the mobile fare she's serving up from the Shuck Truck.
How were you and McAllister inspired to start the Cabin Cove Shuck Truck?
I just love the idea of bringing oysters to people in a way that isn't fussy. I think over the past five years oysters have gotten a new rep and have been taken out of their previously "unapproachable" box, if you will. People are enjoying them in much more casual and fun-filled ways than they used to and I think the Shuck Truck is just a part of that whole movement. Bring the oysters to the people!
How did you find the oyster farm?
We started it! The farm is actually in South Bristol, Maine, just a few miles from Damariscotta. We are at the mouth of the Damariscotta River where the brackish river meets the ocean. The farm is located in the cove where my family home is—just off our dock. Being in the saltier water gives our oysters a distinct briny taste. Because the oystering community is a very supportive one (we wouldn't have been able to get up and running without the sage advice of other farmers) we hope to serve as many local Maine oysters from the Shuck Truck as possible. We don't want to limit the selection to just ours. I hope it will get people in this fabulous food-centric community excited to try all of the great oysters that are being grown here.
Where did you get the truck?
When we got the idea for the Shuck Truck we searched high and low for an old Airstream or Shasta trailer that we could convert. It was sort of daunting, the prospect of doing a gut renovation on a trailer. Then one day, low and behold, I came across an Airstream that a catering company in Vermont had already converted into a food truck and were looking to sell. It was fate! The catering company has been absolutely lovely and when they sold us the Shuck Truck they gave us lots of good tips on how to keep her up and running smoothly.
Can you walk us through the process of farming the oysters and bringing them onto the truck
Whew! It's a big one. The way we grow oysters on our farm is in bags (they're actually sort of mesh boxes) that float on the surface of the water. The baby oysters, or the seed, are put into the bags and, over the course of about a year and half to two years, they grow to market size. Growing them to go to market is a long process with lots of steps that would probably bore you. When they are big enough they are taken out of the bags, cleaned, and brought up to the truck. Most of the time we are serving oysters that have been in the water that morning. That's as fresh as they get!
How did you decide on the different sauces you offer and do they vary?
It depends on the scale of the event etc. There are lots of fabulous Maine-based companies that have provided sauces for us. So, what they are offering can often determine what we serve. We make a few in-house on a regular basis, such as Mama T's Special Cocktail Sauce. It's my mom's recipe and a crowd pleaser so that's usually on the menu. We also make a mean mignonette. Those are two must-haves in my opinion. We are actually working on our own line of sauces right now that will be produced commercially. So hopefully a few new favorites will emerge!
What are some of your favorite stories from the truck so far?
I'm just always amazed at how happy people are to see us. People really love oysters and being able to walk up and grab a few on the go is such a nice treat. I also have to say weddings are really fun. We do sort of an unlimited hour for a lot of events and guests think they're not allowed to have as many as they want. Some will come up trying to mask their identity by taking off a coat or putting on sunglasses because they think we're going to cut them off. Or they'll keep apologizing for coming up and taking more. I'm like, "Come and get 'em! That's what we're here for!"
What is your favorite type of oyster and why?
Well, Cabin Cove, of course, because they're ours. I'm also a big fan of other oysters grown in the area like Pemaquid and Glidden Point. I'm a total sucker for Naked Cowboys from Blue Point on Long Island. Oh, and Kumamoto from the West Coast! I guess I have a lot of favorites.
Can you actually shuck an oyster and how did you learn?
Yes I can shuck an oyster! I can shuck lots and I'm pretty fast if I do say so myself. I'm not as good as my business partner, Michael. He's like a speed racer. I learned to shuck oysters from my father when I was younger and have been working on honing my skills ever since.
What are your goals for the truck in the upcoming year?
So many! There's a law against food trucks in Portland right now, so we're on the committee that's working to change that law. In the meantime, we'd like to share our oysters during the summer in some other seaside towns, do a bunch of fun wedding and events, launch our sauce line, grow a lot more baby oysters... so many goals. Time to start a to do list.