Do you remember your prom night and the little things that made it special? Perhaps it was the first time your dad let you borrow his car or your favourite song being played while you danced. Nonetheless, it was a memorable night. “I want people to remember their visit with us the same as they do their prom night. Exciting, full of friends, full of possibilities and maybe even some blurry moments,” explains Mike Langley, Co-owner of Tide and Vine Oyster Company.
Mike Langley grew up in Niagara Falls, ON and at the age of 15 he dropped out of high school to work at the Golden Griddle before moving to Ottawa, ON. Langley drifted from city to city and country to country with what he calls “no focus or direction,” holding a variety of positions from kitchen jobs to working in a Backpackers Hostel. “When I was 19 years old, some guys I knew were driving a psychedelic bus around Canada picking up backpackers and staying at camp sites. I hopped on and that really fueled my desire to travel,” says Langley. Next, Langley found himself in Liverpool, England. “I had a wicked job at a rock and roll joint where the Beatles started. I met Bo Diddley and I was there when George Harrison died. It was a pretty wild time in my life,” recalls Langley.
Shortly afterwards, Langley returned to Ontario. “I fell into a job at an oyster house in downtown Toronto. I enjoyed it because it was casual, not fine dining, but there was a certain refinement and class to it,” he states. This is where he met his partner, Kat Steeves, and suddenly Langley found himself smitten. “It was moments of standing beside her and I clearly saw my future,” recalls Langley.
The Beginnings of Tide and Vine
It wasn’t long before Langley and Steeves decided it was time to make a change from downtown Toronto. “One day, we drove to Niagara to visit Mike’s mother and we stopped at a bunch of wineries and a light went off. We knew no one was handling oysters in Niagara with the passion and experience we have,” states Steeves. “We bought ‘Pearl,’ a 1974 Volkswagen camper van and we didn’t think about the food truck aspect of it, we just needed a way to travel to the wineries,” adds Steeves. Less than five weeks later Tide and Vine Oyster Company had their first job shucking oysters at Food Truck Eats 2012 at Peller Estates Winery for thousands of people. “It was crazy,” recalls Steeves.
“Pearl” is a food truck, so to speak, but Langley’s crew do not cook out of her. “We pitch a tent and use custom built tables and barbecues to cook with,” he states. “Mobile food is extremely hard. With travel time, set up and take down a four hour job is a ten hour job. You really work hard for your money,” adds Langley.
Into The Restaurant Business
The couple acquired a kitchen space on Portage Road in Niagara Falls ideal for the purpose of preparing the food for their events. They quickly entered a partnership with Silversmith Brewery running the brewery’s kitchen. “Our product and their product work well together,” states Langley. This partnership allowed Langley and Stevens to hire more staff and begin building their repertoire of signature dishes. “Our Lobster Roll is one of our best sellers,” says Langley.
The Tide and Vine orders a variety of oysters from places within the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and delivers them to various restaurants and businesses within the Niagara Region. “We use a refrigerated van to pick them up in Toronto. Anyone can offer one kind of oysters, but to carry a variety is challenging and costly because of shipping and weather,” states Langley. “Winter weather is difficult because it can mean delayed shipments.”
“When you work with oysters you learn about how geographical location affects the taste of the oyster, how to prepare them properly and then there is the sub-culture and competitive side of shucking,” he says. Langley quickly became caught up in the friendly competition of shucking and started to compete across Canada achieving the status of 2013 Canadian Oyster Shucking Champion. “There is a bit of a rock and roll element to it: which is what I like,” admits Langley.
With the immediate success of Tide and Vine, Langley and Steeves began planning their long term goal of opening a restaurant in Niagara Falls. “We wanted a restaurant of our own where we weren’t travelling and most importantly we didn’t have to present our food on a disposable plate,” states Steeves. The Tide and Vine opened its doors in November 2014 to a crowd of pleased customers. “I love Niagara. Right from the start we have been welcomed into the community with open arms. We couldn’t have chosen a better place for the Tide and Vine,” says Steeves.
A High Quality Menu
Although Langley and Steeves have given countless individuals their first oyster, they are not the only item on the menu, which is designed for the experience of sharing with friends. “Tide and Vine takes common items like Beef Short Ribs and Shrimp Cocktail and kicks it up a notch,” states satisfied customer Deb Vukelich. “The woody flavour of the shrimp is what makes it the best shrimp on earth.”
Everything on the menu is fresh and made from scratch and Chef Steeves, from Moncton NB, wouldn’t have it any other way. From her homemade Scotch Bonnet Sauce to her flavourful Seafood Chowder, Stevens is a true chef at heart. “I grew up with a family whose love is in the kitchen: constantly cooking, canning, making their own maple syrup and raising chickens. Not everyone these days gets to grow up with homemade cookies, bread, soups and a dad who is a trained chef; from a culinary perspective I was spoiled rotten,” explains Steeves.
While it is important not to confuse food oysters with pearl oysters, it is safe to note that the clientele and staff you find working at the Tide and Vine are as rare as the pearl itself once was – they are genuine. “It’s a very family feel,” states Langley.
The Tide and Vine Restaurant is a modest space and with growing popularity and the couple are in talks to expand the space to add more seating and an area for larger groups and parties. However, not before they host the much anticipated third annual Oyster Fest Niagara this spring.
“I had no idea what I was doing until I did what I am doing now,” states Langley. “Anyone that you talk to that has made a decision to own their business will tell you it’s emotionally and physically draining. You think I could have a regular job and not worry about how you are going to pay the phone bill, then you shake it off. I really believe that anyone can do it, but I believe it is not for everybody,” says Langley.
Much like a prom, the Tide and Vine is a place to enjoy new experiences, great friends and incredible food. Whether you sit at a private table or at the bar where you can watch Langley shuck oysters, the Tide and Vine will open your mind and take your palate to a new level.
For more information visit tideandvine.com
By: Jill Tham