Rodney's Oyster House
By Kathleen Renne

The Sage of Shellfish

“The Sage of Shellfish & Ocean Languages, Specializing in Oyster Tongues.” That’s how Rodney Clark, owner of Rodney’s Oyster House, signs his emails. In case you haven’t guessed, this man is passionate about oysters, something he attributes, in part, to his upbringing in the Maritimes.

Rodney was born in Prince Edward Island, where his father ran a building-supply company. After attending art college in the United States, Rodney moved to Toronto to work as a commercial artist. While there, some Torontonians who were suppliers for Rodney's father's business would ask the Clarks to send them boxes of Maritime oysters. "That's how I got my name ‘The Oyster Man.’ It just grew and grew. I was interested in getting a good oyster into a good home, and they'd keep asking for more," Rodney recalls. And so, the first Rodney’s Oyster House was born in Toronto in 1986. Another restaurant followed in Vancouver in 1998 and then in Calgary in 2015.

"At Rodney’s, we’re notorious for good oysters,” says Rodney, adding that his restaurants are “all about bringing people together to have fun.”

Rodney's provides a casual dining atmosphere that reflects fishing and ocean culture. In Rodney's Calgary location, for example, weathered wood, fish nets and floats hang from the high ceiling, and a decorative rock "island" anchoring the central bar imparts a real seacoast flavour to the space. Rodney's has an extensive seafood menu – with a focus on shellfish – and is open for both lunch and dinner. Oysters are king here, but entrees range from good old fish and chips to lobster, Dungeness crab, pasta with clams and an array of cold and smoked seafood plates.

At Rodney's, we're notorious for good oysters. - Rodney Clark, owner
Rodney's Oyster House owner Rodney Clark founded the first Rodney's Oyster House location in Toronto.
Rodney Clark founded the first Rodney's Oyster House location in Toronto in 1986. Photo courtesy of Lovebites Photography.

A Bivalve Education

Rodney says the staff at Rodney’s Oyster House encourage customers “to bulk up on their Oyster 101.” The more education people have about the oyster, he says, the better their appreciation for the bivalve.

For instance, despite the provocative names with which urban distributors christen their oysters (e.g. Naked Cowboy, Beavertail), there are only five North American oyster species. Another tidbit? Oysters from the East Coast have salty and sweet flavours, whereas those from the West coast carry a hint of cucumber and melons.

Rodney says customers should be evaluating an oyster based on its shape, size and meat quality. “I'm always lobbying for larger sizes and oysters with personality,” he says.

Rodney's Oyster House is located in Beltline.
The Rodney's Oyster House Calgary location opened its doors in 2015. Photo courtesy of Lovebites Photography.

Responsible "Oystership"

Rodney’s Oyster House is a family endeavour. Rodney’s partner and two children both work with the family business. Rodney’s son, Eamon Clark, has also captured the title of Canadian oyster-shucking champion seven times. In 2015, Eamon even broke the Canadian record, shucking 18 oysters in one minute and 16 seconds. And, like father, like son, Rodney is also a three-time oyster-shucking champion.

Rodney's oyster empire also includes an oyster farm in Prince Edward Island, though he says it supplies only a small percentage of the oysters served at his establishments. In 2015, for example, Rodney’s Oyster House in Toronto went through 989,000 oysters. That same year, approximately 120,000 oysters were served at Rodney’s Calgary location. Though a smaller number, it's impressive, as the Oyster House is still building its reputation in “the old seabed,” as Rodney has dubbed the prairie city.

Rodney stresses that this great volume of delicious oysters is served in a sustainable fashion. He says his oyster houses are supplied by more than 60 oyster farmers and fishers and are very “in tune” with the Monterey Bay Aquarium's guide to sustainable seafood purchasing. “All the oysters Rodney’s serves are as close to the fisher as possible," he concludes. "We know when an oyster was fished, who fished it and how long it has been out of water.”

Rodney's Oyster House serves oysters.
Rodney says oysters are "translators of fun" and are great conversation starters. Photo courtesy of Lovebites Photography.
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