Harvest, Shuck and Taste the Olympics: An Oyster Lover’s Escape
When I connected with Sara, I knew right away that there was something remarkable about her story. It begins with her pride in a 50+ year family-run business, Mikes Beach Resort, located in Lilliwaup, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. Sara and her husband Matthew proceed a legacy of pioneers in gastro-tourism, and grew up contributing to the dream started by Sara’s Grandparents: maintaining a beautiful retreat in Washington State that overlooks the Hood Canal, and offers any array of activities like camping, scuba diving, fishing and hiking…. But here’s my favorite: harvesting and slurping oysters off of their private shellfish beach.
With a bit of natural magic and a dash of human nurture, their shores have been blessed with a wildly bountiful oyster bed.
Being in the travel industry by day, I revel in experiences that create special moments for people to embrace food sources in a very natural, cathartic way. Most people find nature a beautiful reprieve from noisy lifestyles, and we search for the hidden - the treasures tucked away between mountains, lakes and seas.
And it gets more exciting. Just two years ago, after a lot of positive feedback and insistence from visitors, Sara and Matthew decided it was time to farm. Our feature below is an account of family, love, appreciation for our natural world, and plump, oyster goodness.
Here is the story of Olympic Oyster Company.
Can you share a little bit about your family? I see that your oyster farm is 50 years running! How did this all begin?
Sara: Mikes Beach Resort was built by my grandparents in 1951 and named after their baby boy, my dad Mike. When the land was bought there were three cabins on the property with no running water or power that we believe were built around the 1930’s. My grandfather was an avid scuba diver which was what brought him to the Hood Canal in the first place. We have many world renowned dive spots in and around our area, bringing in flocks of divers to this day.
My grand parents spread oyster seed on the beach upon their arrival and slowly began to add new cabins every few of years. My grand parents run the resort through the 50's, 60's and 70's, then my parents took over in the 80's and 90's. My brother and his family along with my husband and I joined the crew, and now form a strong, three-family working operation.
Mikes Beach Resort was, and still is, a place to reconnect with the natural world. People come from all over to hike, camp, hook up their RV’s, fish, crab, shrimp, dive, boat, swim, and last but not least - feast on fresh out-of-the-water clams and oysters. Our shellfish farm has always been open to resort guests, making Mikes a true trailblazer in what is now the widely popular gastrotourism industry. People come equipped with their boots, gloves, a shucking knife, cooler with ice, and an appetite for the finer things in life. Our oyster farm was naturally occurring, meaning that the oysters were not farmed and simply reproduced naturally. Over the years our guests expressed great interest in seeing our oysters available at their local restaurants… We toyed with the idea but never really took it seriously until 2016 when we decided to section off part of the beach and farm these beautiful bivalves.
Give us a day in the life?
Sara: A typical day is based around the tide. The resort and oyster beach is open all year but we only provide oysters to restaurants October through June, which usually means night tides for the majority of the season. My husband gears up and gets his tools, materials and truck ready, then heads down our driveway towards the water and onto the oyster farm. He works through the night with his team; head lamp, gloves and tools to either farm or harvest oysters. He bags them up by size, leaves them on the beach until he is ready to load them into the delivery truck, puts them on ice and heads into town. He delivers Tuesdays and Fridays, making his way from the Canal to Seattle dropping off fresh product as he goes. I do all the administration from our home office.
I read that you are situated "Where the Olympic Mountains meet Puget Sound’s Cold Waters." Can paint us a picture of the landscape?
Sara: We are located at the base of the Olympia National Park where the Hood Canal meets the evergreen forest. Our oyster farm is situated on some of the most rural land and some of the cleanest waters our lovely state has to offer, which makes for a product that truly encapsulates the raw soul of the area. A fresh water stream comes directly from the mountains and empties out over our farm into the salt water, giving Olympic Oysters a multidimensional taste. The canal is a super healthy waterway, bursting with life. Oysters are only a part of the sea world family, which include giant pacific octopus, dungeness crab, shrimp and hundreds of different varieties of fish including salmon.
What is unique about your operations that gives us a little insight into the process?
Sara: What is unique about our operation is the fact that we are a 100% family owned and a 100% family operated business. We are found mostly by word of mouth, but once people find us, they seem to come back year after year. It is truly heart-warming to know that this place is a place where memories are made. We have people who came here as children and who now bring their grandchildren to the place they would summer. Mikes has grown into a tradition for many, and it is an absolute honor to be a part of that. We also pride ourselves on farming small and transparently. We have no fancy machinery, no holding tanks, no huge work force - just a family farming with a lot of love and guaranteeing the freshest seafood with same-day tide to table delivery. We simply work with nature to enhance what she already has mastered, and do our best to farm small in order to make sure we do not negatively affect the biodiversity and ecosystem of the bay. Studies have shown that oyster farming, when done correctly, can actually enhance the ecology of the area and that is exactly what we strive to do. We are very proud to be a part of the long history of oyster farming in our state and are overjoyed to be able to share our little slice of paradise with our extended community.
Flavor Profile - what should an oyster lover expect from an Olympic Oyster?
Sara: We have a wild oyster that is plump and robust, with a crisp sweet flavor and a mild cucumber finish. It is old-fashioned beach harvested and intertidally grown, with a natural wave action to harden shells and exposure twice a day.
Our suspended oyster has a strong initial brine/salinity, excellent liquor volume, a deep mineral taste, with a sweet seaweed and cucumber finish. They are line grown and beach tumbled.
What's your favorite part of being an oyster farmer? What is the most challenging part?
Sara: The most challenging part I believe would be the night tides in the middle of the winter. It is cold and wet and can be quite difficult to farm. Our favorite part would be working with nature, being outside doing what you love in a place we love, and doing it for all the right reasons. When what you do and who you are are in line with each other, it brings an insurmountable amount of pride, gratitude and satisfaction to your " job".
I hear that visitors can come glamp at the oyster farm. Would you like to share the experience you create for visitors?
Sara: Yes, Mikes Beach Resort and Olympic Oyster Co have joined forces to make for an unforgettable and quintessential Northwest experience. We are just 2 hours away from Seattle, reachable via freeway and/or ferry making for the ideal weekend staycation. We have waterfront cabins, RV sports, cap sites, family rooms, glamping tents and even an all original 69 airstream trailer for those who fancy a total blast from the past. We have many pet-friendly units. We have a play area for children. We have kayaks, paddle boards and paddle boats for rent. We have a cinema where we show two films a day on Saturdays. We have the ability to fill air tanks for our scuba visitors. Our oyster farm is open during low tide for harvest. Simply stop by your local gas station and pick up a license for harvesting. We are at the base of the Olympic National Park so the hiking options are truly endless. We have a boat launch and moorage so all boaters welcome. We have an indoor hot tub for those visiting us in winter wanting to warm up before getting a solid night’s sleep. We have multiple camp fire rings so smores are always encouraged. BBQs are also available for the outdoor cooking aficionados. We have a pier for fishing and ample seafood in the water open to the public during shrimp season, crab season as well as the salmon run.
Where can you find your oysters locally? Any places you would like to highlight?
Sara: Olympic Oysters can be found on site at Mikes Beach Resort for all guests, as well as at Smoking Mo’s in Shelton, Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar in Olympia, Elliott’s Oyster House, Walrus and the Carpenter, Ballard Annex, The Brooklyn, Flying Fish, Bastille Cafe & Bar, Matt’s in the Market, The White Swan Public House and Blueacre Seafood in Seattle.
What is next for the business?
We plan on expanding our potential for events onsite in the future. We feel as though restaurants could truly benefit from holding their employee retreats here at Mikes and connecting to the food they serve. You can learn about the ecosystem in which these particular oysters find themselves, and actually participate in the harvest and preparation of these marvelous bivalves. Working together, cooking together and feasting together in one of the most splendid settings this state has to offer. Spending time away from the city and in nature is a valuable team-building experience, which will not only benefit the restaurant climate as a whole, but be an unforgettable experience for each individual as well.
How do we book?
Interested visitors can make reservations through Mikes Beach Resort directly by calling (360) 877-5324, and someone in the familia will pick up. If you’re looking for the ultimate oyster experience, please contact me (Sara) directly at (305) 781-7107 or via email at OlympicOysterCo@gmail.com.
Editor’s Note: I would like to thank Sara for this inspiring story! OOC’s product and Mike’s Beach Resort create a truly memorable experience for oyster lovers and nature enthusiasts alike. You can follow Olympic Oyster Co on Instagram at @olympicoysterco and on Facebook here.