The Wandering Mollusk settles on a home
Jess Taylor is finally wading into the waters of owning a restaurant after a decade shucking oysters.
For nine years, Jess Taylor of The Wandering Mollusk has lived by the credo of his business: wandering around Victoria and Vancouver Island shucking oysters and providing a “West Coast seafood experience.”
But Taylor won’t be wandering as much anymore, as he gets ready to take over Shine Café on Blanshard Street at the end of this month and anticipates opening his new restaurant, Shuck Taylor’s, in June.
“I’ve always wanted a restaurant space as a way to prove my concept,” he told Tasting Victoria. “The timing is perfect.”
In January, Taylor posted in the Victoria Hospitality Facebook group that he was looking for a space, and that if someone was looking to get out of the industry, transferring the lease to him would be a simple way out.
The next morning, Taylor said he “serendipitously” received an email from Lauren Thomson, the owner of Shine Café. Apparently, she was looking for some relief in the industry after a rough few years personally and professionally.
According to a letter sent to staff on March 31, Thomson had been considering consolidating operations at Shine Café for a few years. The COVID-19 pandemic and its challenges, her divorce from her ex-husband and part-owner of Shine, and putting the space in safe hands with Taylor all helped expedite that process.
Shine Café’s Fort Street location will remain open and all equipment at the downtown location will be sold to The Wandering Mollusk.
“I don’t know what restaurant sales are typically like, but this has been incredibly smooth,” Taylor said.
Shine Café on Blanshard Street will close at the end of April. Photo: Shine Café / Facebook
The Wandering Mollusk has become a fixture in the local foodie community, and it’s common to see Taylor shucking oysters at Whistle Buoy Brewing in Market Square on a summer’s day. If you’ve been in the industry, Taylor’s ascent is likely not a surprise.
In his 20s, he ran around various bars and restaurants in Victoria working towards what he thought was his dream job in finance. That dream became a reality when he got a job in Vancouver working at a trading desk for a foreign exchange brokerage in 2009.
“I was chasing status and I found it, taking private jets to Vegas and whatnot,” he said. “But it was all about playing the shell game with the clients … it wasn’t me.”
He made the decision to quit his finance job in 2012, and in the interim, his friend got him a job at Rodney’s Oyster House in Vancouver. “It’s like the oyster church,” he said. “It’s the premier oyster experience.”
Taylor worked at Rodney’s until 2014, learning the ropes of what it takes to run a world-class oyster bar, including where and how to source oysters locally and abroad. At some point, he figured he wanted to do his own thing, and knew it had to be in Victoria.
“But I couldn’t afford to buy my own restaurant,” Taylor said. “I wondered what I could do that was actually feasible.”
Taylor knew he wanted to incorporate what he learned from Rodney’s and bring it to Victoria. So, he moved back to Victoria in 2014, started bartending at The Guild (formerly on Yates Street), and figured catering was a great foray into the business. While chatting about his idea with Ryan Malcolm, the owner of Rock Bay Market, Taylor inadvertently landed his first gig.
“I was chatting with [Moore] about wanting to start a shucking business,” Taylor told Tasting Victoria over text. “[A] week later ... he goes, ‘Cool, I just booked you your first gig.’”
It was the only gig Taylor landed that year, but in 2015 he kept landing more and more. The next year, Douglas Magazine listed The Wandering Mollusk as one of 10 to watch in 2016.
“Victoria is such a great community for small businesses. Everyone wants to help each other and I definitely felt the love [early on].”
Since then, The Wandering Mollusk has evolved from a catering company to a pop-up oyster bar that’s been around the country. During the pandemic, Taylor began offering his infamous take-home seafood buckets. They were a hit.
Taylor catering an event with his infamous seafood buckets. Photo: Provided.
Nine years later now, and he’s making his next big move with his new restaurant: Shuck Taylor’s. The idea is to have a high-energy oyster bar focused on locally sourced shellfish, tin seafood, and everything in between.
"The Wandering Mollusk is the pearl of fine dining," he said. "While Shuck Taylor’s is the diamond in the rough of oyster bars.”
As for the menu, Taylor said you can expect the same dedication to seafood at Shuck Taylor’s as you’ll find with The Wandering Mollusk. “Everything will be really fresh and I’ll try to make it really affordable,” he said. “I want us to have a kickass happy hour.”
Shuck Taylor’s will have cocktails on tap and craft beers, and Taylor, celebrating over 100 days of sobriety, said he intends to include a rich spirit-free and low-alcohol cocktail menu as well.
The Wandering Mollusk will still gallivant around Victoria and Vancouver Island; but for the next year, Taylor said he’s looking forward to planting his roots.
“It’ll be a place for anybody and everybody.”