Local culinary landmark of Coupeville
Upholding the legacy of the Oystercatcher.
by Sydney Lorton
Legends never die, but legacies are real. A chef of twenty-five years, Tyler Hansen set down roots in Whidbey Island with his wife Sara and now carry on the legacy of the Oystercatcher.
The restaurant is a community favorite, founded in 1998 by Susan Vanderbeek. “We’ve got people that still come in that were here when Susan owned the place. There’s a really strong community here that’s really supportive,” Hansen said.
In 2015, after another family had taken over for Vanderbeek and remodeled, the Hansens were handpicked to own the business.
However, Hansen’s passion for cooking developed at a young age. He grew up creating in the kitchen. While attending his alternative high school he had the chance to volunteer at multiple restaurants, notably Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse which subsequently hired him after his time volunteering.
This experience evolved his skills as a chef and informed his position of leadership at the Oystercatcher. “It’s a great way to earn your chops, and I kind of never looked back after that,” Hansen said about his time at the teahouse when discovering his passion for cooking.
Everything on the menu at the Oystercatcher is crafted and perfected by the kitchen staff and Hansen himself. “Because of the size of this place, it’s really small and intimate. So it can be really creative, we can change the menu a lot,” Hansen shared.
One such dish is fried green tomatoes with basil and green goddess dressing, tasso vinaigrette, and a fresh tomato salad to top it off. This seasonal summer special is one of Hansen’s favorites and many of the ingredients are locally sourced.
Food production culture is a staple of Whidbey Island, and the Oystercatcher utilizes local farming for many of their recipes. “I always loved working with local produce and that community-oriented type of cooking.” Hansen shared.
This community collaboration includes 3 Sisters Farm who supply beef and chicken, and Penn Cove Shellfish which offers mussels and oysters. Hansen also works with the Bishop family on Whidbey who have 30 acres of land dedicated to wheat production as well as a newly built flour mill.
Hansen is planning to use this flour for his bread that is also sold through the Oystercatcher’s sister small business, the Little Red Hen Bakery. Starting as an independent project, the sourdough bread that Hansen would make for the restaurant became a hot commodity and eventually deserved its own storefront.
While the growth of the Oystercatcher has been exponential since the beginning of Hansen’s ownership, the pandemic was a challenge. However, many community members rallied together to keep the restaurant afloat. They showcased their generosity and appreciation for the restaurant through consistent to-go orders and hefty tips.
“People were giving us $500 tips and somebody gave us a $3,000 check just saying, ‘We want you to stay in this community,’” Hansen shared, “So that was really touching and really special for us to be a part of that.”
As a small business that has been passed down through families, the Oystercatcher is the poster child for local, sustainable food that is beloved by their community. While legends may never die, this legacy has proven its resilience and seems that it will live on forever.