I am SO excited to bring you the first blog post in a new series called ‘Small Biz Spotlight.’ If you subscribe to my newsletter, The Squeeze, you’ll know that every month I feature an interview with a small business. But it never got seen by enough people, so I’m moving that feature to my blog so that you can discover the incredible stories of indie business owners in MK and the surrounding areas.
This feels like a pretty well-timed feature because I’ve just finished reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. If you’ve read it, you’ll know his food journey started when he had his first oyster straight out of the water in France.
Now, I know oysters are a bit like marmite so September’s Spotlight might not immediately appeal to you, but oyster fan or not, I urge you to read on and give them a chance! Raw Boys Club have been on my radar for some time but Dan and I finally sampled the delicious oysters at Stowaway Festival back in August. Toby Boutall is super passionate about oysters and we quickly found ourselves totally entranced by his passion. We also made several trips back to the stand…
It’s been a really incredible year for Raw Boys Club and I’m excited to see what the next 12 months have in store for them. Look out MK, because I think these guys are about to make a splash on the scene. In this interview, I chat to Toby about being an oyster sommelier, how oysters are products and his desert island dish.
Hey Toby, thanks so much for taking the time to chat about Raw Boys Club. Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and the business?
So, we’re a Bedfordshire-based seafood company that specialises in Oysters. After learning my trade under, the omnipresent (somehow), Bobby Groves at the Chiltern Firehouse and growing up in a working mans’ club in Kempston, Bedford I’ve always been keen to bring the highlife to my people and make it affordable and real. We started the company a couple of years ago, but this year has been our first real crack at the local food scene and, wow, what a summer.
How did you start Raw Boys Club?
Raw Boys Club actually started as a full-on concession in Angel, Islington. After meeting incredible suppliers and learning about the industry, we had an incredible opportunity to open somewhere and unfortunately, COVID destroyed the dream rather quickly. Now, it’s just me and Paige Hughes, my ever-suffering partner steering the ship but it feels like, with every event we’re gaining a real crew!
And how did you get into oysters?
Pure luck. I needed a job and had always been in hospitality. Suddenly a job came up with a nice hourly rate and I thought BINGO! However, within six months I fell in love. Oysters were always on the mind. I slowly learnt more and started going to oyster farms and meeting the people behind it all and it really gave me that childlike wonder. I’d say I’m six years in now and you could easily call me an oyster sommelier!
I’m now a total convert, but oysters are a bit like marmite aren’t they? How do you go about persuading people to love them?
The first question is… Do you like seafood? If the answer is yes, then we’re in. You’ll have one and suddenly get three more! However, if people say no, I have to get working. But it’s all about education for me. People love to learn and as soon as you start sharing information, people really are keen to give it a go. And you know what? If you don’t like it, that’s all good, at least you tried!
The way that oysters are produced is quite fascinating – Can you tell us more about how they are grown, harvested and the suppliers that you use?
Oysters are grown in a few different ways. After spending some time with Shaun at the Menai Oyster Farm last week, this question is a really interesting one. Nearly all rock oysters are invasive species. The flat native oysters are actually our historic oysters.
However, this isn’t like other invasive species. Oysters are one of the only carbon-positive food sources. They are INCREDIBLE for the environment and for the people that eat them. Oysters create a Spat. This is when the oyster gets “milky”. They spawn and create tiny little oysters, Literally millimetres in size. Often oyster farms will do this in a small pool next to the estuary, seafront or loch.
Once the oysters are around 6 months old they are either put into bags, brackets or simply dropped to the bottom of an estuary. Time is now the most important thing. Oysters are harvested at around 18 months to 3 years generally. The older they are the bigger, we’ve worked with 15-year-old oysters before and they’re HUGE. The main supplier we use is Simon Lamont at Rocks Oysters. He provides the best Irish, English and Welsh oysters and we share the same supplier as the ever-famous Bentleys Oyster Bar. Simon is incredible. You should find his market in kings cross where he sells the same oysters that we do, they’re the best!
Why are you so passionate about oysters?
For me, it’s the theatre of oysters. They make you feel like a child, they make you ask questions like a child, and they give you memories of cartoons with pearls and shells slamming shut. They have everything. The most important thing for me is that they are incredible for the environment.
What’s the thing you love most about your business?
I love that it’s just me and my partner. We educate people and make them feel different after visiting our stall. Making people happy and seeing them walk away satisfied and usually laughing, is the best feeling.
What’s been the biggest challenge since starting your business?
Our biggest challenge was definitely losing what we had last year in Angel. We lost so much money, so very quickly and we’ve had to spend the year recouping whatever we can. Staying positive and telling ourselves all will be ok, has sometimes been tough. But we’re feeling good now. Let’s keep it going.
You’ve had a big year, and it’s so exciting to see. What’s in store for Raw Boys Club for the rest of 2022 and going into 2023?
This year has been so enjoyable and it’s reminded us why we wanted to do this in the first place. However next year is the next step. We want to expand into new areas, we want to start wholesaling to local areas and eventually, we’d love to open another little place with our full menu. But, it’s all little by little. If it’s another summer of doing big events, that’s fine too. But we’re so happy to be where we’re at now.
And finally – What’s your desert island dish? (Other than oysters…)
Easy. Paige and I met in Italy and there was a restaurant in Posovera called, Poco Di Buono. This is the single greatest pizza I’ve ever had and it was matched with a litre stein of Bavarian Beer. That there. That’s A little bit of heaven, Poco Di Buono.
You can follow Raw Boys Club on Instagram @rawboys_club_events to stay up to date with local markets and events. Raw Boys Club would LOVE to do more markets and events in MK, so hit them up if you’d like them to join you.
Thank you so much Toby for being my first Small Business Spotlight! I hope you found that an interesting read. If you have an interesting story to share and would like to feature in an upcoming spotlight, please email email@example.com.
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