Sometimes a festival starts with just a mollusk and a dream. “I always wondered why there wasn’t an oyster fest in Morro Bay,” explained Neal Maloney, founder of the Morro Bay Oyster Company, “and it turns out there was one — in 1969. I wanted to bring back that feel of a legacy, of a sea-faring town.” Literally one day after first uttering the idea aloud, he got a call from Jacqueline Delaney, wondering if he’d support an oyster fest fundraiser. Said Maloney, “Her enthusiasm and experience took it to the next level.” That next level is the Central Coast Oyster Festival, which debuts on June 16.
Delaney works for the nonprofit OPTIONS Family of Services, which provides a wide range of services to Central Coast residents with developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injuries. “One of the best ways to increase awareness for OPTIONS is a fundraiser,” she explained. “People see we are supporting community businesses and tourism. It’s a much bigger return.” After seeing how successful oysters fests were from Humboldt County to San Diego, Delaney figured, “Why not Morro Bay?”
The centerpiece will be a chef’s battle for the best oyster, which fest-goers will be able to buy. The lineup is already wide-ranging: Dutchman’s Seafood, Full of Life Flatbread, Giovanni’s, Lido at the Dolphin Bay Resort, Mother’s Tavern, Neon Carrot, Osaka Joe Sushi, Pacifica Catering, Palazzo Giuseppe’s, Rooster Creek, Schooners Wharf, Sidecar, and Villa Creek. No matter the chef, though, it’s hard to go wrong with Maloney’s oysters.
“We have a really small bay, and every 28 hours, the bay’s water turns over,” he explained. “The flavor profile will change over the year. After winter rains, there’s more fresh water in the bay, so the oysters will be more sweet, but into the summer months, there’ll be more brine. Overall, the oysters have a fresh salt-water saltiness — it tastes like you just went surfing — and then a finish like a sweet green melon rind.”
The food, wineries, and Tap It Brewing Company — which is making a special beer for the fest — will just be one part of the fun. The Do LaB, which has played major roles in music-art fests such as Lightning in a Bottle and Coachella, has been hired to build unique structures like a wooden pagoda for the Aphrodisiac Lounge. “It will be something you’ve never seen on the Central Coast,” said Delaney. “They’ve never been up in this area, so we’re pretty fortunate.” Then there’s music all day, too, capped by YouTube sensations Walk off the Earth, who nabbed millions of online views for their five-person, one guitar cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.”
As for whether that Aphrodisiac Lounge will just be wishful thinking, Maloney put it this way: “I honestly believe oysters are aphrodisiacs, because the power of suggestion is so strong.” Hard not to argue for a trip up the coast, then.
The Central Coast Oyster Festival debuts on Saturday, June 16, noon-8 p.m., at the Morro Bay Golf Course. Tickets are $20 in advance, $28 at the door. Food and drinks will be sold separately. See CentralCoastOysterFestival.org.