News of Eventide Oyster Co.’s arrival in Boston started with a few hushed rumors and crossed fingers—not everyone had made the trip north to the Portland flagship, but everyone in the New England area had at least heard of the famed oyster bar. When the Fenway location finally opened its doors in October 2017, first-timers quickly figured out what all of the hype was about, and Eventide veterans gleefully reveled in their “I told you so” moments as they watched their friends bite into their first brown butter lobster rolls.
Mike Wiley, Andrew Taylor, and Arlin Smith didn’t know Eventide was going to become, well, that Eventide. The trio met while working for Rob Evans (who now owns Portland’s beloved sandwich shop, Duckfat) at Hugo’s. “About three weeks into my time at Hugo’s, Rob caught wind of the fact that I had a graduate degree, so he pulled me aside to take a look at something he had wrote”, says Wiley. “Turns out it was a sale ad for the restaurant, and he needed me to make it sound a little snappier and more appealing. Long story short, we ended up buying Hugo’s instead.” The deal was sweetened by the fact that Rabelais, the cookbook store adjacent to Hugo’s, was also up for sale, should they want to combine the spaces (they did). The trio realized that while oysters were certainly a core part of Maine’s culinary vernacular, there wasn’t a modern option in town. “One of the old guard places actually had wall to wall carpeting. So, we thought maybe the oyster bar concept in Portland could use a fresher, younger set of eyes.”
Great timing, Wiley will be the first to admit, is a key part of Eventide’s success—the oyster trend blew up in 2010 and 2011, and Eventide was just a little ahead of that curve. But, the menu—decorated with creative composed crudos, chowders, and rolls—also speaks for itself: “In the brown butter lobster roll, we’ve stumbled upon something that people really go nuts for. They behave like it’s some kind of Schedule 1 substance”, he says. Eventide adopted an unpretentious vibe and a more reasonable price point, the kind of combination that spots like Duckfat and Hugo’s had so successfully pulled off. That approach translated so well that the summer months took Wiley and his partners completely by surprise. “It got to the point where our locals started just telling us they’d be back around Halloween when things got a little more civil again. It was just totally insane for three to four months of the year, and we realized that we needed more kitchen space, more staff, more everything.” Eventually, the trio also bought the space next to Hugo’s and Eventide in order to have more much-needed working space. They also used that opportunity to open a third restaurant—a creative noodle joint called The Honey Paw.
As Eventide’s lines kept wrapping all over Portland, it became obvious that it was time to start thinking about a second location. Boston’s proximity to the commissary kitchen that serves Eventide, along with Andrew Taylor’s Newton, Massachusetts roots, made the city a strong contender. “When you look at how customers use Eventide, they’re mainly coming in for 10 things. So we thought, well, what if we did a paired down, ‘greatest hits album’ of Eventide and brought that to Boston.”
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Aside from the paired-down menu, the vision for Eventide Fenway was first and foremost for it to be the kind of restaurant that appealed to the weekday office crowd, but was also a go-to option for a night out with friends. The fine-casual atmosphere—guests order on tablets that are run by Eventide staff, and then wait on a text message that lets them know their order is ready—means you can barely look up from your cell phone while picking up your lunch. But Wiley, Taylor, and Smith also wanted to be able to cater to folks who came in to enjoy a couple of carafes of rosé while indulging in three dozen oysters over the course of two and a half hours. “Eventide reaches a whole wide swath of people looking for different things in their dining experience. We didn’t want to sacrifice that with the Fenway location.”
When it finally came to settling on a spot in Boston, Wiley felt a disconnect from some of the glassy exteriors and overwhelming polish in areas like the Seaport district. “We’re Mainers. We like brick. That’s not to say that’s what Eventide Fenway looks like, but when we were looking at the location, someone told us that’s where you’d park your car 10 years ago if you wanted it to get stolen. I went, ‘Alright! That appeals to me.’ It has character.” Wiley says the neighborhood changes a little every time he drives down from Portland, but some of the most incredible changes are happening right inside Eventide Fenway’s kitchen. “Seeing a new team kind of carrying the torch forward with a restaurant that we made with our hands from scratch is amazing”, says Wiley. “Seeing all of these young cooks and young servers who are really jazzed about working there is so heartening—I know that sounds like kind of an ‘Aw, shucks’ thing to say, but it’s really the truth.”
Header image courtesy of Eventide Oyster Co.