July 06, 2023
OystHERS Raw Bar and Bubbly
In the summer of 2022, in the midst of the immense grief of losing their father, Sadia and Lauren Crosby set out to create something new. They had dreamed of opening a restaurant together for years and now finally had their chance.
Together, the sisters made an excellent team as they combined Sadia’s knowledge and resources as an oyster farmer with Lauren’s prior experiences in hospitality and teaching to best run their business. Now, the two sisters own and operate OystHERS Raw Bar and Bubbly located on the riverwalk in Bath, ME. The business provides the community of Bath and the state of Maine with an opportunity to experience a meal that is often inaccessible for many Mainers. The sisters work tirelessly to overcome the challenges of small business ownership and provide their clients with a quality dining experience.
Here is OystHERS story in the Crosby’s words:
A Dynamic Duo: the Crosby Sister’s Backstory
We had a life experience that brought us to this as our father passed away unexpectedly in 2021 and that was a turning point for us. He was a lifelong commercial lobsterman, so we grew up on the water. We both were in our late twenties and didn’t like the careers we were in, and we needed a passion project. So, this time of grief was where the idea behind OystHERS came from.
We got our start at Five Islands Lobster Company, which is where I feel most kids when they’re 14 or 15 years old in Georgetown, Maine go and learn how to pick lobster and make lobster rolls. So, we both went through that, and I think it was like that time where I (Lauren) learned that I absolutely loved teaching people about lobster, seafood and the history of coastal Maine.
I’ve worked as either a bartender, host, or waitress for a long, long time so I understand the hospitality side of it and also the bookkeeping, like some of the organization stuff that comes with starting a business. I think that’s kind of where teaching really helped me. Because I had a lot of time as a teacher, I’m very good at getting things done.
I (Sadia) started Oyster Oysters Sea Farm, end of 2018, Georgetown, Maine. My oysters got really popular, and I was sort of coming to the front of making a decision about keeping my farm very small and running it part-time or shifting into something different and I was excited about expanding, so this warped into that emotion and that sense of like jumping off point at the same time.
Lauren and I (Sadia) definitely make a good blend. Lauren is definitely more hospitality focused. She is really good at taking time with people, whereas I definitely see myself more of a behind the scenes making sure functionality is good.
Our dream was to always start a food truck. So, we wanted to start a little food cart, called Molly’s Lobbies and Hot Doggies and sell $25 lobster rolls and $5 hot dogs down in Five Islands. That was always kind of a funny thing. But now it’s kind of reality, which is like, whoa.
A Shoulder to Lean On: How CEI and OystHERS Worked Together
I (Sadia) was at this turning point with my farm, and I needed some capital. I had been having some issues with boats and I really wanted to expand my social media side of things as well. So, I wanted to make a website and I needed some help.
Somebody had connected me with CEI’s Women’s Business Center, so I just reached out and I was given an advisor, Grace Mo-Philips, who’s been amazing.
I was pursuing this support for the farm, but then Lauren and I began this project. So, I had worked with. with Grace, who helped me write a grant application that I actually secured some funding for. Then Grace was available to meet with Lauren and I and we were able to talk with her about this dream that we wanted to create. And she was really knowledgeable right off the bat about where to get started with the business. And we worked with Grace when we needed to have some funding to begin.
We thought that we were going to get funding from this one bank and anyone who’s applied for a bank loan knows that’s a full-time job.
So, we had spent a lot of time applying and there’s a review period, right? So, you’re losing time. Sadia was getting a master’s degree, and I was working full-time as a high school English teacher and bartending every night. So, we were saving up enough capital, so once we hit like February, things were starting to get very scary. Because a lot of stuff was coming due on this property. And we were like, I’ll pick up some extra shifts and see if I can cover the rent, like see if I can do it. But it was really tough. Then we got denied by our first bank and we were shocked and then we had to scramble and apply at another bank.
We apply for the second bank and they denied us too. Both banks denied us because we’re “too risky”. We have no business experience. We’re brand new and there’s no oyster bar in Bath so they can’t look at numbers. So, both banks said no. However, the second bank said “go to CEI and apply for a loan with them”
We applied; we got approved in March. We are so lucky because during that whole process, even though it took a long time, everyone was very, very helpful. Everyone wanted to see us succeed. CEI is just a great experience and if someone’s watching this right now and they’re trying to figure out how do I start a business or seek business advising and instructions on how to apply for a loan? I really hope that CEI is where they turn to because they truly helped us.
Connection Over Control: How the Crosby’s Approach to Business Ownership is Unique
Our vision is being truly farm to table and farm to bar. Bringing fresh oysters in right off the boat. Same thing with a lobster, like hand-picking lobster that’s being harvested right here locally. So supporting local harvesters alongside female businesses. It’s small businesses that support other small businesses.
We have an amazing staff of about 13 right now, and you know why? It’s because we know their families [and] a lot of kids [are] from Georgetown, where we’re from. We’ve watched them grow up. To be able to give them their first job and work with them in a way that’s not shady and dicey. We’ve worked in the service industry, and we know some people can be that way because of the high stress.
Sadia and I, we’re bosses but we understand what some of the younger generations are going through. With my background with teaching high school, I can tell if kids need a little extra support.
We both worked for really good people, and we’ve also worked for really challenging people. One thing that I have definitely learned is that there’s nothing that makes you push harder than having your foreman or your boss is right there alongside you. And there’s a bond too, because when you’re in the weeds and you’re slamming and you’re right there scrubbing down dishes. And it’s like you bond, you can tell, and then you can understand what your employees go through.
We’re very proud of not only this project, but also the community around this. And the supporting players are our staff. So having people that are also excited to come and see this vision fulfilled of opening the bar has been very fortunate.
From (Sea)Farm to Table: What does OystHERS look like today
It doesn’t matter who you are. Oysters and champagne are considered, have been considered an elite food. And it’s so fun to be able to get guys from Bath Iron Works, women from Bath Iron Works, whoever coming here. Everyone should be able to enjoy fresh Maine seafood at a price that’s reasonable.
And you’ll see on our menu, we have Sadia’s oysters discounted because we want people to be able to experience that, but also give other farms the money that they deserve because it’s hard work. Same thing with having some bottles of bubbly. We have a $5 prosecco on draft. We’ll always keep that.
It’s just you sharing your life and listening to somebody else’s life and having that shared experience. For us, it’s all about being able to provide an experience for somebody. A lot of that was growing up with dad. It was very spontaneous and didn’t matter. Like yeah, you got a T-shirt and jeans, it doesn’t matter. We want people to be able to come feel special and that’s important to us. And it all goes back to our upbringing with our dad.
A Final Piece of Advice: What is Key for Any Potential Small Business Owner to Know?
Time. Time. Give yourself plenty and plenty of time.
Learn more about OystHERS Raw Bar and Bubbly:
- Web: Oysthers Raw Bar & Bubbly
- Facebook: Oysthers Sea Farm | Georgetown ME | Facebook
- Instagram: 🥂OystHERS Raw Bar & Bubbly🥂 (@oysthersrawbar) • Instagram photos and videos \
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