When he was 25 years old, Singaporean Adam Loo decided to set up an oyster shucking and delivery business, The Oyster Cart.
“It happened that I received a batch of good oysters that I really enjoyed so ideas went running wild with setting up an oyster bar. Back then, there weren’t really many oyster bars around. Most would actually hit buffets for oysters,” said Adam, who is now 33 years old.
The former executive from the maritime industry wanted to start an oyster bar then, but he lacked capital and felt that he was inexperienced to jump head in to start a business fully.
At the time, Adam was also tied to a scholarship bond and it would have been costly if he quit his job, as he would have to pay liabilities if he broke the bond.
“So I drew on my experience backpacking in Venice in Italy, where you could see little “oyster carts” along the street selling oysters, and thought that it could be a good idea to bring a similar set-up to homes and offices. That way I don’t only save on overheads but I could manage my time by taking up events only in the evenings after my day job.”
With the limited funds he had, Adam went to IKEA to buy a S$200 trolley cart and refitted it with a drainage system.
Unafraid of getting his hands dirty, he then designed and printed tons of flyers and later hopped on his bicycle and cycled around private estates to hand out his flyers.
The idea was a hit to the community he reach out to, and he clinched his first event to serve clients on Christmas Eve 2013, the same year he started this side business.
A profitable business
The company has been profitable since 2019, when Adam entered the business full-time.
“I’ve basically bootstrapped the business all the way and we do not rely on debt for growth.”
The business currently sells about 20,000 to 28,000 pieces of oysters a month.
Observing the prices of the oyster sets, the most basic Crown Flagship type with 12-piece oysters costs S$58 a set. This would translate to selling over 2,000 sets, which adds up to over S$100,000 of revenue on a monthly basis.
The founder and Managing Director of The Oyster Cart claim that the company is the first to offer a mobile oyster bar concept and delivery service in Singapore. “Our belief in serving quality live oysters and service has gained much support from clients. Most of our clients have been repeated clients since the start of the business.”
Besides focusing on private clients, The Oyster Cart also supplies to businesses on occasion.
The firm launched its oyster online delivery service five years ago, and that according to Adam, has helped it capture regular customers, especially so in this period.
“I have always believed that only deliveries can help the business to scale. That acceleration came earlier than expected with the pandemic, and being in a digital mode right from the start allows us to ride on the digital trend.”
For example, on a peak period like Father’s Day, the startup served about 250 plus families via online.
Ever since the start of the pandemic, about 80 per cent of sales comes from deliveries, while workshops take up 15 per cent and the Mobile Oyster Bar at about five per cent.
The most recent private event The Oyster Cart served onsite was for a five pax birthday celebration, said Adam.
“We used to be focused on onsite serving at events but with Covid-19 we pivoted to deliveries. It is challenging with existing measures but we do at times be onsite for selected clients.”
“We are not only serving home environments but corporates as well. Of course, subject to existing Covid-19 measures,” he said.
Quality over quantity
The Oyster Cart’s shuckers are strangely well dressed, and Adam said that these are details thought of by the company to carry out the brand image. “The oyster shuckers aren’t only representing the brand but also critical to an experiential event in relation with our luxurious oysters,” he said.
For clients who like oysters, it would mean that these food lovers probably have exquisite taste buds and maybe more critical of quality food.
“Oysters served have been a reflection of our clients’ status. Our clients typically prefer oysters that are non-creamy but briny with depth of flavours. We rely greatly on feedback from our clients for the choices of oysters to serve.”
When asked about what the founder’s favorite oysters are, he highly recommended the Crown Series premium oysters from Ireland Carlingford. “They are briny at the start with a full-blown sweetness towards the end at the center of the meat. Very refined and slight mineral flavour. They are exclusive for our clients only.”
How about finding a pearl in an oyster? Chances of that are 1:70,000, said Adam. “Rarely do we find a pearl in an oyster, but when we do find one, we pack it separately in a small container for the lucky client,” he said with a smile.
The Oyster Cart also sells other underwater delights, like New Zealand littleneck clams, Wild Alaskan snow crabs, and cocktail shrimps, which are also popular with returning clients.
Strict hygiene standards
The oysters are kept in special chillers in the shop, said Adam, and all food is prepared in an SFA-approved establishment.
“The oysters are flown in every Monday and Friday, and at times on Wednesday during the peak season. Stocks are always available for deliveries unless there is an unexpected sudden surge in demand.”
The business offers same-day delivery as well but currently, there’s often a manpower crunch for this service hence there are limited slots. “That’s because I’m the primary shucker and could get overwhelmed at times and have to shut off the same day service,” said Adam.
When asked if the oysters are sustainably sourced, Adam commented that oysters are actually one of the most sustainable seafood around. He said that they help to improve water quality and restore marine ecosystems and do not affect wild stock populations.
Other than handling frequent shipments per week, a challenge that Adam faces is the task of serving the oysters fresh upon shipment arrival.
Another challenge that he faces is finding the right person for the job.
“The nature of our clientele and the risk of raw food (contamination) makes it difficult for me to hire, you can say that I’m particularly selective with shuckers that can join me in shucking and serving.”
Beyond oyster carts
Sometimes, there’ll be oysters that will end up not fitting the standards criteria, like oysters that are dead, for example.
Being a millennial himself, the need to follow sustainable methods while running his business is also an important part of the job.
The solution: Transforming them into art pieces.
“By turning them into art pieces, we hope to bring more awareness to supporting non-profits and charities’ missions and at the same time contribute the proceeds to support various causes.”
Meantime, the business has also placed more focus on oyster shucking workshops. It’s a concept thought of two years ago but customers are now getting more receptive to the idea.
“Workshops have been popular as customers are looking for interesting activities to do and gain new knowledge, especially when traveling is still quite restricted. Most clients are not only here to learn but also to celebrate a special occasion like a birthday or a wedding anniversary,” shared Adam.
“Workshops also allow participants to know more about us and how we operate. It’s particularly important as we are almost a full online business right now and having physical interactive events helps us to understand our clients and build trust.”
The Oyster Cart is currently in the midst of transforming its current shop for dining in. It wants to transform it into a “mini” oyster bar for clients to go to visit and enjoy their time, subject to Covid-19 regulations of course.
Adam still looks forward to returning to his first love – setting up oyster carts at events, when the pandemic situation improves.
“Workshops will also be a key focus at our second space, along with building new carts ready for future events.”
The company is also on the lookout for individuals to join its growing team.
“We are an inclusive employer. I have two full-time colleagues and one part-timer now. We are expecting two other new colleagues to join us in November.”
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Featured Image Credit: The Oyster Cart