The Urban Oyster to Open Fast-Casual Restaurant and Bar at McHenry Row

| November 14, 2018 | 0 Comments

The Urban Oyster has spent the last year and a half as a pop-up and farmer’s market food business, but in early 2019 it will open its first brick-and-mortar restaurant at McHenry Row in Locust Point. The Urban Oyster will take over a 1,400 sq. ft. space that was part of the former Ruby 8 at 1702 Whetstone Way. Ruby 8 closed in July and was subdivided into three retail suites.

The Urban Oyster was launched by Jasmine Norton in 2017. It focuses on raw oysters, Norton’s signature chargrilled oysters, and seasonal seafood dishes. Norton came up with the idea while working in corporate hospitality in New York City. She has always been a foodie and worked with many chefs first at the Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore and then later during her career in New York City.

“When I think of food, I think of fellowship,” said Norton. She moved to New York City after feeling a “sense of hopelessness in Baltimore after the riots of 2015.” But, when she came up with the idea for The Urban Oyster, she wanted to bring the fellowship of her food back to Baltimore and help change the narrative of her hometown.

When she returned, she soon discovered she had a large tumor on her thyroid and was out of work for about five months following treatments, a surgery, and recovery. She used that time to market her business and refine her menu.

After recovery, Norton did her first kitchen takeover at Truffle Butta Bistro in Towson and then started running a table at the Fells Point Farmers Market. She soon began working four farmers’ markets a week, working festivals, and hosting several popups at R. House in Remington. She later began the process of finding her first brick-and-mortar location.

It was at the Baltimore Farmers Market & Bazaar when Mark Sapperstein, the owner of 28 Walker, which developed and manages McHenry Row, met Norton.

“He came up to me and said, ‘I saw you working so hard, do you feel like you are ready to move to the next level?'” Norton told SouthBMore.com. He invited her to see the available space at McHenry Row later that week.

Norton said it just “felt right” with 28 Walker. “I wanted to commit to someone with my best interest at heart. I didn’t feel like they were just looking to fill a vacancy,” she said. Norton also mentioned how accommodating Sapperstein was and how he wanted to help her business grow.

Norton is excited about all the growth around Locust Point and being a part of it. “It’s really becoming the place to be,” she said.

The space at McHenry Row fit the bill as Norton was looking for a location that already had a kitchen, as she didn’t want to take on the cost of a full restaurant build-out. Norton takes pride in “bootstrapping” her business and not taking on any loans.

The suite at McHenry Row features Ruby 8’s old kitchen, which The Urban Oyster will use. Norton will redesign the rest of the space with a “modern nautical” theme. Construction is expected to begin in December.

The Urban Oyster will be a fast-casual restaurant with order-at-the-counter service. It will also have a five-person raw bar with full-service dining. The dining room will seat about 30.

The raw bar will include about five types of oysters as well as clams. Norton said that she will be working with distributors for her seafood but has also developed a strong reputation with the Double T Oyster Ranch in Tall Timbers, Maryland. The Urban Oyster will host a weekly $1 oyster night, likely on Wednesdays.

Knowing she was coming into a crowded, male-dominated industry, Norton wanted to separate herself with a special focus on chargrilled oysters which she developed a love for during her trips to New Orleans. Everyday The Urban Oyster will offer its three signature chargrilled oysters: the Cheese Louise which is a nod to New Orleans with mozzarella, parmesan, lemon garlic butter, and parsley; the BBC with stands for bacon, barbecue, and cheddar; and the Teriyaki with teriyaki sauce, crushed pineapple, scallions, and wontons.

Along with oysters, The Urban Oyster will serve crab cakes using Maryland crab meat. With Norton’s commitment to Maryland, it will be a seasonal item served from about July to December. Other items will include codies, oyster and shrimp tacos, burgers, salmon burgers, short rib grilled cheese, and brunch items such as a shrimp BLT on a waffle bun, an oyster benedict, and a lobster roll croissant.

Norton says that with her team’s experience at farmers’ markets and events, they’ll be able to serve the crowd on-the-go pretty quickly, but that she also invites customers to stay and enjoy their meal.

The Urban Oyster will use Ruby 8’s former liquor license and will serve locally-focused drinks. Norton noted that she has developed a strong relationship with many local brewers and wineries on the traveling circuit of working at events and farmers markets. She looks forward to working with local companies such as McHenry Row neighbor Diamondback Brewing Company, Boordy Vineyards, and Old Westminster Winery & Vineyard.

Norton will play “happy, upbeat, and uplifting” music at her new restaurant. She said she never forgets her Bluetooth speaker when her business is on the road, and often gets station requests from neighboring food tables.

Norton is hoping to open The Urban Oyster in February. It will be open from 11am to 9pm on Monday to Thursday, 11am to 1opm on Friday and Saturday, and 11am to 6pm on Sunday.

The Urban Oyster has 10 employees, many of whom are family members of Norton’s. Her staff will grow at the new location.

The Urban Oyster will continue to work farmers markets and festivals, and the McHenry Row location will serve as the home kitchen.

Also in Ruby 8’s former 4,200 sq. ft. space is Passport Health which now occupies a 1,400 sq. ft. suite, and Clean Juice which is under construction on a 1,200 sq. ft. restaurant.

Ruby 8 was one of four Asian-fusion places that occupied the retail space since McHenry Row opened in 2012. The others were Red Parrot Asian Bistro, House of Asia, and Umi Sake.

Photos courtesy of The Urban Oyster’s Facebook Page

About the Author:

Creator of SouthBmore.com and resident of SoBo. Graduate of Towson University and owner of Incept Multimedia, a full service video production company. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover and "bar food" foodie. Email me at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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