Recipe for Recovery: Oyster House is Taking Chances to Stay Afloat on Sansom Street

Alicia Vitarelli Image
Thursday, July 16, 2020
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Parts of Sansom Street in Center City look like a shell of their once vibrant selves these days, but one reliable pillar is fighting to stay strong, and stay open.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Parts of Sansom Street in Center City Philadelphia look like a shell of their once vibrant selves these days, but one reliable pillar is fighting to stay strong, and stay open.

To do so, the Oyster House is taking some chances and some of the changes have been surprisingly successful.

They've been a mainstay on Sansom Street for more than four decades. Closed for a few months, they recently came back and that's exactly where they intend to stay.

"We were absolutely devastated," says Sam Mink, the owner of the Oyster House. "We shut the restaurant down and we've been shut down pretty much ever since. We had to lay everybody off."

When outdoor dining got the green light, the Oyster House did something it's never done in its 44-year history.

"This is a first for us. We have some tables out on Sansom Street, out on the sidewalk."

The Oyster House has a lot of regulars and a lot at stake.

"My father opened up what was originally was called the Sansom Street Oyster House, and that was in this location in 1976."

"We've been through lots of recessions," Mink says, "but we've never been through a pandemic like this before."

To pivot, they added takeout and delivery.

They created home kits featuring what they call their greatest hits, like DIY lobster rolls and New England style clam bake with lobsters and all of the fixings.

"All you have to do at home is steam it all together," Mink says.

The outdoor seating has been a success.

"People are excited that they can eat oysters outside on Sansom Street," Mink says.

Foot traffic on that strip is light and many of the businesses still boarded up after a night of peaceful protests ended in looting and vandalism. Add to that, the devastation of the pandemic.

"Thousands and thousands of people come and work in Center City, all of those people are working from home right now," Mink says.

But they're taking it day by day, waiting for the moment they can fill the seats inside.

"We can hang on for a little while, but if we're through the winter and we're still not able to serve people, that's going to be a huge challenge for us."

But after 44 years, they say they're not going anywhere.

"We're going to be little bruised, for sure," Mink says. "It's going to be a challenge getting out of this, but we will be here for Philadelphia."