At the age of 25, Singaporean Adam Loo decided to start an oyster peeling and delivery business, The Oyster Cart.
“By chance I received a lot of good oysters that I liked very much, and so the ideas of setting up an oyster bar went wild. There weren't that many oyster bars back then. Most would actually meet oyster buffets, ”said Adam, who is now 33 years old.
The former manager from the maritime industry wanted to start an oyster bar at the time, but he lacked the capital and felt inexperienced to start a business in full.
At the time, Adam was also tied to a scholarship loan and it would have been expensive to quit his job as he would have to pay debts if he broke the loan.
Adam is a practical entrepreneur who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty / Image credit: The Oyster Cart
“So I went back to my backpacking experience in Venice, Italy, where you could see little 'oyster carts' lining the street selling oysters, and thought it might be a good idea to have a similar setup in homes and offices bring. In this way, I not only save overheads, but also manage my time by only accepting events in the evenings after my job. "
With the limited funds he had, Adam went to IKEA to buy a trolley for S $ 200 and fitted it with a drainage system.
Not afraid of getting his hands dirty, he designed and printed tons of flyers and later hopped on his bike and cycled through private estates to hand out his flyers.
The idea was a hit with the community he reached out to, and he hosted his first event to serve customers on Christmas Eve 2013, the same year he started this sideline.
A profitable business
The company has been profitable since 2019 when Adam joined the business full-time.
"I basically rebuilt the business from scratch and we don't have to rely on debt for growth."
The business currently sells around 20,000 to 28,000 pieces of oysters per month.
If you look at the prices of the oyster sets, the simplest Crown Flagship type with 12-piece oysters costs S $ 58 per set. This would result in sales of over 2,000 sets for sales of over S $ 100,000 on a monthly basis.
The Oyster Cart founder and CEO claims the company is the first to offer a mobile oyster bar concept and delivery service in Singapore. “Our belief in providing high quality live oysters and service has received a lot of support from our customers. Most of our customers have been regular customers since the beginning of the company. "
The "Rolls Royce" of all oysters, Grandeur Gillardeau, sold on The Oyster Cart / Image Credit: The Oyster Cart
In addition to its focus on private customers, The Oyster Cart occasionally also supplies companies.
The company launched its online oyster delivery service five years ago, which Adam says has helped attract repeat customers, especially during this time.
“I've always believed that only deliveries can help the company scale. This acceleration came earlier than expected with the pandemic, and if we are in digital mode from the start, we can keep up with the digital trend. "
For example, at a peak time like Father's Day, the startup served about 250 plus families online.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, around 80 percent of sales have come from deliveries, while workshops account for 15 percent and the Mobile Oyster Bar for around five percent.
The last private event The Oyster Cart served on-site was a birthday party for five, Adam said.
The pandemic has limited the number of oyster bar events / Image Credit: The Oyster Cart
“We used to focus on on-site service at events, but with Covid-19 we have focused on deliveries. It is a challenge with the existing measures, but we are sometimes on site for selected customers. "
“We not only serve home environments, but also companies. Of course, subject to existing Covid-19 measures, "he said.
quality before quantity
The Oyster Cart's shuckers are strangely well dressed, and Adam said these are details the company came up with to bring the brand image to life. "The oyster peelers not only represent the brand, but are also crucial to creating an experience for our luxurious oysters," he said.
For customers who like oysters, this would mean that those foodies are likely to have exquisite taste buds and perhaps more critical of quality food.
“The oysters served reflect the status of our customers. Our customers usually prefer oysters that are not creamy but salty with a deep taste. When choosing which oysters to serve, we rely heavily on the feedback from our customers. "
The Oyster Shuckers are well dressed as they represent the brand image, said Adam / Image Credit: The Oyster Cart
When asked about the founder's favorite oysters, he recommended the Crown Series premium oysters from Ireland, Carlingford. “They are salty at the beginning and have a full-blown sweetness in the middle of the meat towards the end. Very refined and slightly mineral. They are exclusive to our customers. "
How about a pearl in an oyster? The odds of this are 1 in 70,000, Adam said. “We rarely find a pearl in an oyster, but when we do find one, we pack it separately in a small container for the happy customer,” he says with a smile.
The Oyster Cart also sells other underwater delights, such as New Zealand clams, wild Alaskan snow crabs, and cocktail prawns, which are also popular with returning customers.
Strict hygiene standards
The oysters are kept in special coolers in the store, Adam said, and all food is prepared in an SFA-approved facility.
“The oysters are flown in every Monday and Friday, sometimes also on Wednesdays in the main season. Inventory is always available for delivery unless there is an unexpected sudden surge in demand. "
The company also offers same day delivery, but currently there is often a staff shortage for this service so there are limited slots. "That's because I'm the primary shucker and at times I could get overwhelmed and have to shut down service the same day," Adam said.
The company's Crown Premium Oysters / Image Credit: The Oyster Cart
When asked if the oysters are from sustainable sources, Adam said that oysters are actually one of the most sustainable seafood ever. He said they help improve water quality and restore marine ecosystems and do not affect wildlife.
Aside from handling frequent shipments each week, one of Adam's challenges is to serve the oysters fresh when the shipment arrives.
Another challenge for him is finding the right person for the job.
"The nature of our customers and the risk of raw food (contamination) make it difficult for me to hire someone, you can say that I am particularly picky about shuckers that can shake and serve with me."
Beyond oyster carts
Sometimes there are oysters that end up not meeting the standard criteria, such as dead oysters.
Being a millennial himself, the need to use sustainable practices in running his business is also an important part of the job.
The solution: transform into works of art.
"By turning them into works of art, we hope to raise awareness of supporting nonprofit and charitable missions, while at the same time donating the proceeds to a variety of purposes."
Hand-painted creations of oyster shells for sale on the website / Photo credit: The Oyster Cart
In the meantime, the company has also concentrated more on oyster peeling workshops. It's a concept that was thought of two years ago, but customers are now becoming more receptive to the idea.
“Workshops are very popular as customers look for interesting activities and new insights, especially when travel is still very limited. Most customers are here not only to study, but also to celebrate a special occasion like a birthday or a wedding anniversary, ”said Adam.
“The workshops also enable the participants to learn more about us and the way we work. This is especially important as we are almost a fully online company right now and physical interactive events help us understand our customers and build trust. "
Experience workshops to learn about oysters are becoming increasingly popular / Image Credit: The Oyster Cart
The Oyster Cart is in the process of redesigning its current dining store. It wants to turn it into a "mini" oyster bar that customers can visit and enjoy their time, subject of course to Covid-19 regulations.
Adam is still looking forward to returning to his first love – setting up oyster carts at events when the pandemic situation improves.
"Workshops will also be an important focus in our second room, along with building new carts ready for future events."
The company is also looking for people to join its growing team.
“We are an integrative employer. I now have two full-time colleagues and one part-time employee. We expect two more new colleagues to join us in November. "
Image source featured: The Oyster Cart