Catching up with Caspian Oyster Depot
Hopefully you’ve had the pleasure of ordering and enjoying the fresh fish that’s being delivered to Bristol’s Main Street every week. Wait, what? Fresh fish in our beloved, alas land-locked, Vermont?
Yes. But there’s a catch.
Justin and Sophie Wright — the married duo who opened Caspian Oyster Depot as a pop-up fish and local provisions market at Tandem in late December — are going to pause their business on April 16. Why? Well, first, the couple is expecting the arrival of their baby in early May, and second, Tandem needs the space back for their busy summer season.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Justin reflected in an interview this week. “The energy and vibe that Sophie and I bring feels great… One or two people come in at a time, which gives us time to talk to each person. It’s been a real humanistic outlet through the pandemic and living in a rural area.”
“It’s been a really sweet way to introduce ourselves to the community and settle down here,” Sophie agreed, explaining that they’d moved back to her hometown after spending more than four years in California’s Bay Area.
The couple met here in Vermont while Justin was studying at the New England Culinary Institute, and they both worked at Hen of the Wood restaurant when it opened in Burlington in 2013. Life took them to an organic farm in Hawaii, back to Stowe to help start Doc Ponds in Stowe, around Europe and most recently to California.
Justin was working at Sister, a restaurant in Oakland, and Sophie had shifted from restaurant work to full-time interior designer.
“COVID shone a bright light on the fragility of the restaurant business,” Justin said. “We saw the best-of-the-best restaurants close.”
The duo lost work in California and decided it was time to come home last summer. At first, Justin opened C’est Ça — a takeout-only biz in Burlington — but that closed by winter.
“Caspian spawned out of that,” Justin explained. “We had this idea but not much foresight for what we were going to do… Through the time we’ve both spent working in restaurants over the years, we know how thin the margins are, how hard it is to keep a labor pool happy and satisfied, and how it can feel like a train going at full speed with no conductor. That set the narrative for us in the future; we wanted to come up with a different way to provide hospitality… We decided why not do three or four pop-up markets around the holidays and see how it goes.”
Well, it really went.
“People were really into it,” Justin continued. “It was such a sweet realization that there was a demand for fresh fish and fresh provisions here in the Five Town area.”
Caspian not only carries fresh shellfish, fillets, specialty seafood and prepared dishes, but it also has bread from Slowfire Bakery (Jeffersonville), butter from Ploughgate Creamery (Fayston), eggs from Philo Ridge Farm (Charlotte), mushrooms from Blue House Mushroom (Ferrisburgh), and coffee beans and drinks from Vivid Coffee Roasters (Burlington).
“It feels exciting to provide something for this community especially being my hometown,” said Sophie, a 2009 Mount Abe grad back when she was known as Sophie Conner. “We’re seeing a ton of people in our age group moving back from the cities. It’s interesting to be out there and talking with people… it seems like people are re-settling back into the rural lifestyle. I also think COVID has shifted lots of people’s routines to shopping more locally.”
“Yeah, people want to feel good about where they put their dollars,” echoed Justin. “Our customers are very thoughtful.”
The couple averages about 50 customers a week. Some come in and do a “big shop,” others stop by for a simple 1/2 pound of salmon each week.
The key-player in Caspian’s business model is, of course, their fishmonger, Ethan Wood. He runs Wood Mountain Fish out of Boston and is someone Justin and Sophie have known through their relationships in the restaurant industry.
“On Wednesday night or very early Thursday morning the boats come in, unload their catches and prices are set,” Justin explained. “The trucks are loaded up that morning and come up to meet another driver at the New Hampshire border, who brings the catch up here. We package the orders and have pickups on Fridays. It’s just about as fresh as you can get in a landlocked state.”
Hop on this boat and order your fish in the next few weeks before Justin and Sophie close up shop for a summer-hiatus. How? Preorder by Tuesday evening for pickup on Friday online at caspianoysterdepot.com, email email@example.com or call 802-349-7634.
While you’re connecting with Caspian for your order, sign up for their e-newsletter to stay up to date with their plans for the future.
“We want to stay relevant in the community through the summer,” Sophie said. “We want to keep doing this; there’s been such a positive reception.”