Jess Taylor, The Wandering Mollusk Oyster Catering Co.

Jess Taylor and his partner Sean Roberts founded boutique business The Wandering Mollusk Oyster Catering Co. in 2015, winning a Douglas 10 to Watch Award the following year. They are known for their passion for the oyster, for sustainability and for customer service, and their roving oyster bar is much sought-after for parties and events.

How is the Wandering Mollusk coping right now, and how is your team feeling about how it will all play out?
First and foremost, we are very grateful to have our health. This crisis has brought out the best in our community and we are so happy to see people band together and support local businesses and the less fortunate.  With that effort we can pull together and get through this crisis better than when we started.

At the Wandering Mollusk we’re lucky to have a business model with low overhead that allows us in times of crisis to close the shutters and weather the storms, even this one. It was never planned that way but more of a necessity to survive as a business, now it’s seems to be a positive feature that will get us through all that’s going on.

However, our friend and oyster farmer Andrew Dryden from Evening Cove Farms and the rest of the oyster community is having a much harder time and that pains us to see. All the farmers and towns in the Salish Sea that depend on this industry are so much more affected than us. Looking at these oyster farms and seeing the orders dry up for oysters worldwide has been hard to watch. These are the people that really take the hit.

How has the crisis affected your business, and how do you anticipate it will continue to affect it?
Two years ago, we started doing Oyster Bar Pop Up Bars and partnering with liquor producers (wineries, distilleries and breweries) and since that time we have seen a phenomenal growth by doubling sales every year. This year we were projected to double sales again from last year and were working to expand our operations and really push forward in 2020. The excitement was high, and we had just hired 2 more employees.

The week we shut down we were in the process of purchasing a van for our Vancouver operations so that was a kick in the teeth for us as well. We had to stop and think. Would we make the purchase anyway or maintain our cashflow? We never went through with it in the end and decided to close our doors and play it safe.

What advice are you giving yourself and your team for riding this out?
The best advice I have is we can take the time that has been given to us to work on our family, community and business. I believe that there is a tremendous opportunity to come out of this healthier, more organized and better educated than we were before it started.

If you told us 10 years ago that we could have a 4 month break from our lives to learn, recalibrate and work on all the things that we never had time for in our daily hustle, I know I would have jumped at chance.

Of course, we say this with great caution as some people don’t have the health and opportunity that we do and of course we don’t know where or how long this is all going to go. All we can control is our mindset and have the intention to use this time wisely.

What is the opportunity in the challenge for you and your business?
We can’t shuck right now but we will work on the small tiny projects that we like to call ‘time thieves’

These are the million little things that can bog you down and take your time away from your core business, especially as a very small business owner. So now is the time! These little things are what fix the efficiency of your operations, strengthen your brand or lead the way to long term health of your business but you just never have the time when you are consumed about the big things everyday.

What advice have you applied or are you applying from previous experiences coping through crises?
This business has come from our passion for oysters so most things we have achieved came from learning on the fly with the intention of delivering the best experience possible. The lessons and advice we learned as owners got built out from there. Generally, people are so eager to give advice and help you grow. We have always appreciated that.

We have never had a crisis before, so our best bet is to listen and learn from others and be inspired from business community leaders such as The Jawl Family and Andrew Wilkinson who are doing so much for the community right now.

What are your resources? Do you have a mentor supporting you, peer group, books you read?
Nick Waters from Toque Catering has been a big resource. Watching him work through this process with a business that is so much bigger than ours. He continues to give more than he should and conducts himself with integrity and a positive attitude. We learn from that…

What advice do you have for others experiencing this alongside you?
My advice is a statement of fact that we are personally very lucky to have our health. That is everything right now. No matter how much opportunity we get to ‘better’ ourselves or our business, we need to be aware that there are so many others who are not that lucky. People who are very sick or dying and those who have lost family and friends. This makes their experience of COVID-19 very real and it’s important for us we keep that on our minds as we try to make the best out of a bad situation.  This business will survive, but it’s never worth our health. Stay positive, be safe and help how you can. We are grateful.