On a foggy Tuesday evening at Coopers Bluff, oyster enthusiasts, along with Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, gathered for the Oyster Eating and Oyster Shucking contest, a popular event at the annual Oyster Festival, which traditionally takes place outdoors in the heart of the hamlet. Covid-19 has led to a different festival this year, the 37th, forcing organizers to change the format to a virtual one. But, perhaps the most popular event, the oyster eating and shucking contests, had to be done live, so the contest was held for the media only, so they could share it with their viewers and readers.
“Tonight, is something special,” Donna Drake of the Donna Drake Show said. “It’s actually an honor when you realize 100 years from now, somebody is going to be looking at the videotape and see that we were here. We did it.”
The winner of the Oyster-Eating contest, which entailed eating six oysters as fast as possible, was Saladino, finishing his oysters in less than 16 seconds.“Really the congratulations go to everyone that made this possible,” he said. “We are Oyster Bay strong.”
The winner of the shucking contest, Oyster Bay resident Brad Launer, who was no stranger to the event.
"It was amazing to continue the 37 year tradition of crowning winners in both the oyster shucking and oyster eating contests,” said Alissa Marti, the festival spokeswoman. “Brad has competed as a shucker before but we're glad to see him get his first win with the Oyster Festival. Supervisor Saladino was in it to win it. He was focused and ready and slammed his six oysters in less than 16 seconds.”
Finishing those oysters in less than 16 seconds wasn’t too much of a task for Saladino. He said it was a delicious meal because the oysters were dug here in Oyster Bay, where the best shellfish come from.
“The Oyster Festival is one of the most important functions, festivals anywhere on Long Island,” he said. “Because of the pandemic, everything this year obviously has to be a little different, but be part of the fun, keep this going and we also want to remind people that they can donate because this is all about a charity.”
All proceeds from the Oyster Festival benefit the charities and organizations in the hamlet. It is the biggest fundraiser of the year for these groups, which they depend on.
In October, Theodore Roosevelt Park would traditionally be the site where thousands gather to enjoy the offerings at the food court under the massive tents, listen to performers on two stages and catch up with friends and neighbors. And every year the festival offers 60,000 oysters that are harvested and prepped.
The idea to have an Oyster Festival came about nearly four decades ago. “One of the most illustrious residents of Oyster Bay was Teddy Roosevelt, and back in 1982 some of the local organizations had organized a parade to commemorate his birthday,” said the chairperson of the Oyster Bay Charitable Fund Jim Fuccio, adding that Roosevelt was born in October. “After that was somewhat of a success, some of the town organizations got together and decided, why not have an Oyster Festival.”
The first Oyster Festival was held in 1983. In 2000, the Oyster Bay Rotary Club began leading the operations of the Oyster Festival, making it the charitable event that it is today.
“It was always well attended,” Fuccio explained. “It became really quite important to everyone as a fundraiser.”
But because of the pandemic, festival has been changed to a weeklong, mostly virtual event called Oyster Week, presented by the Oyster Bay Rotary Club and the Oyster Bay Charitable Fund. It began on Oct. 16 and it ended on Oct. 25.
The weeklong event, which has entailed virtual silent auctions, a week of deals from local restaurants and businesses and the annual oyster eating and oyster shucking contests, is on a mission to continue supporting local charities and the community, while promoting the history, the natural environment and the resources of the town as the Oyster Festival has done in the past.
“The mission of the festival is to support local charities, the local community by fundraising through this very robust family event,” said Oyster Bay Rotary Club President and former Senator Carl Marcellino. “We have an awful lot of organizations involved and the more we get involved the better it is. To do that we like to engage a lot of people.”
Money raised through the virtual silent auction, which has offerings such as experience packages, golf packages, memorabilia, music and fine art items, jewelry and much more will support the Oyster Bay Charitable Fund that supports local charities and causes like the Oyster Bay Lions Club, The Railroad Museum in Oyster Bay, The Learning Tree Pre School and the Youth & Family Counseling Agency of Oyster Bay-East Norwich.
“We know that Covid-19 has devastated the non profit world and also created a greater demand for the programs and services the Oyster Bay charities provide,” Marcellino said.
To learn more and participate in Oyster Week, visit www.oysterfestival.org.