There is more than one way to shuck an oyster: Business Lessons Learned from an Iconic Orlando Family Restaurant
You never forget your first oyster, mine was at Lee and Rick’s Oyster Bar, a window-less boat-like structure located at an un-obvious corner of Kirkman and Old Winter Garden Road. Lovingly, in the exact same location that the Richter family commenced shucking in 1950 and, after 68 years, is still shucking!
In fact, “everybody shucks” explains: Tricia Richter Blunt. “We don’t have servers, we have shuckers – and everybody shucks. It’s part of the culture.” Tricia and her brother Gene grew up with the family business and manage it still today in the spirit of their parents and their parents before them the original Lee and Rick Richter. Their family has been serving up oysters on the half shell with a side of fun for 68 years.
The parking lot at Lee and Rick’s reminds me of a potpourri of lifestyles, made up of equal parts construction trucks and Lamborghinis. But when you enter the door, everybody is equal. No reservations, no VIPS, no loyalty programs – oysters are the great equalizer. As Tricia says: “We treat everybody the same here. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, if there is space at the oyster bar you’re welcome here.”
Orlando must have been a very different place in 1950 (when Lee and Rick's opened), it’s hard to make a list of even ten restaurants that have been in Orlando that long. What’s their secret to longevity? A quick google search for advice for new restaurant owners offers: pick a popular location, advertise, monitor your competition, create loyalty programs and diversify.
The Richter family has seemingly side-stepped the standard business model and succeeded in a way that so many restaurants have not. They have:
- Designed an Organic Loyalty Program – Their loyalty program isn’t about getting 50% off on Tuesday, it’s the organic loyalty that is passed down from generation to generation.
- Kept it Daringly Simple – Steamed or raw? No reservations. No shirt – no problem. Flip Flops are cool. Bring the kids.
- Created an Interactive Dining Experience - Lee and Rick’s is the place to “get oysters” and more than the food, the shucker relationship is all part of the presentation. People are serious about their customized butter/lemon/horseradish/tabasco dipping sauces.
- Built an Iconic and Relatable Brand – Without advertising and in a pre-yelp world. Word of mouth fueled by a cult-like following from generation to generation.