102 years later, still shucking along

| Print |  Email
Sunday, March 01, 2009
oysterphoto.jpg The City Oyster Company opened in 1907 in Portland.

PHOTO COURTESY OF DOUG WACHSMUTH

PORTLAND Louis C. Wachsmuth opened his first oyster at age 5. Twenty-five years later, in 1907, the boy from Oysterville, Wash., moved to Portland and with business partner L. Roland Mills opened a seafood store that would prove resilient enough to survive the Great Depression, multiple recessions, both World Wars and a volatile restaurant scene.

More than 100 years ago, the front of the City Oyster Company wasn't lined with SmartMeters and hybrid cars but with live crabs, stirring wildly in open wooden crates, along with fresh oysters, lobsters and fish.

Now named Dan & Louis Oyster Bar, this downtown eatery is one of Portland's oldest family-owned-and-operated businesses. It claims to have served more oysters on the half shell than any other on the West Coast, and served them up to some famous lips: Mickey Rooney, Sebastian Cabot, Richard Boone and Jonathan Winters, to name a few.

But more importantly, how does a tiny oyster bar survive for over a century?

"Integrity," answers Doug Wachsmuth, a third-generation Wachsmuth and the bar's owner. "You know what they say, 'When the leader gets too far out in front of the troops, he's perceived as the enemy.'"

During World War II, the biggest threat to the oyster bar was the rising cost of commodities, especially butter, Wachsmuth says. And what's oyster stew without butter, anyway? Since then, even with commodities often getting cheaper,  the restaurant business hasn't gotten any easier.

"The sheer volume of restaurants has been our main competition," Wachsmuth says. "Portland has become something of a mecca for restaurants."

To remain competitive, Wachsmuth and his son, Keoni, a culinary arts graduate, have diversified the menu while still maintaining the oyster bar's nostalgic, nautical aesthetic. "It's important to do both if you want to stay relevant today," says Wachsmuth.

With the economy in the tank, there's little doubt that restaurants around Oregon will struggle. Doors will close. Tenants will vacate. But, says, Wachsmuth, "We'll still be here."        CHRIS MILLER


Have an opinion? E-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

 

More Articles

Which Way to Chinatown?

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

The Jade International District, already Portland's center of Asian life, is poised for rejuvenation. Where does that leave the westside's historic Chinatown?


Read more...

Editor's Letter: Power Play

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014

There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation.


Read more...

Corner Office: Sheree Arntson

January-Powerbook 2015
Saturday, December 13, 2014

Checking in with the managing director of Arnerich Massena.


Read more...

Dan and Louis Oyster Bar opens up to a changing neighborhood

The Latest
Thursday, December 11, 2014
121114-oystervidBy MEGHAN NOLT

VIDEO: Revamping a Classic — an iconic eatery stays relevant in a changing marketplace.


Read more...

Corner Office: Steve Tatone

January-Powerbook 2015
Saturday, December 13, 2014

Seven tidbits about the president and CEO of AKT Group.


Read more...

The city as startup

Guest Blog
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
011415 citystartup-thumbBY NISHANT BHAJARIA | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

Startups in the growth phase are associated with a fresh infusion of capital — human and financial — a curiosity factor and products to disrupt the market and drive demand. Portland’s economy gives off the same aroma.


Read more...

Raising the Stakes

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER

The 2014 Bend Venture Conference set a record for the most cash, investments and prizes awarded at an angel conference in the Pacific Northwest. Investments in the six winning companies exceeded $1 million. The 11th annual conference was hosted by Economic Development of Central Oregon.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS