Pop-ups have added a new sense of excitement to food lately. Customers are demanding uniqueness to replace the arbitrariness brought on by COVID, and Denver has seen a mix of interesting new concepts. From delivering artisan bread to Puerto Rican pastries and lots of background noise in between, the local restaurant scene was anything but stale. Now comes a new name with an unlikely altruistic food – the humble oyster.
“Oysters are the only thing that always gives something back,” said Ben Wolven of his precious shellfish. “Whether it’s bringing people with an oyster in hand to their last memory or purifying our water, they really do it all.”
After staying behind Mister Oso’s back terrace bar, Wolven’s concept, Oyster Wulff, changed the landscape. At Cherry Creek’s newest cocktail lounge, Forget Me Not, you can find Wolven Wednesday through Saturday by following the unmistakable sound of an oyster being peeled.
A Mainer at heart, he grew up surrounded by oyster people – or as they have become known in the city as local celebrities. While his grandfather wasn’t in the business, he was enjoying his fair share. Even as an enthusiast, Wolven decided to get his turn due to his lack of peeling skills. He peeled his first oyster when he was 10 years old and has not stopped since.
But oysters were never just a salty snack for Wolven – everyone stands for sustainability and community. Water filters through each oyster, making the water cleaner for the environment. They show how important it is to give something back, a lesson that has been Wolven’s family roots for generations. In his experience, the people in the industry are authentic in their pursuits – which Wolven immediately attracted.
With the connections that have strengthened his love of seafood, he goes straight to the farmers for every order. He sources sources from The Maine Oyster Company to ensure the quality never fluctuates. Bypassing suppliers adds to its costs, but the payoff is great when the salty and sweet peels arrive fresh. The whole process ends with Wolven proving his skills as a peeler that have made him a champion in his field worldwide.
His relationships extend to his customers as well. Its pop-up acts as an oyster oasis where people can throw off the mountainside for a swim by the sea. Whether it’s citrus, sweet, butter, or salty notes, they’re a simple pleasure – similar to picking an apple straight from the orchard. He enjoys watching people slurp an oyster and be overwhelmed with a sense of contentment and comfort.
The entire setup is rustic, reminiscent of the docks he remembers from home. The oysters lay on a bed of ice next to a half-shell piled with a grated haystack of horseradish. Each thread has a hot feel to the oyster without overwhelming it like the strain does with glasses. He also does without ketchup, or as he calls tomato sugar, which is often found in cocktail sauce. Instead, it’s the vinegar and acid from the mignonette sauce and a lemon wedge to round off the plate. This feeling of confidence in simplicity makes people return for more.
Pop-ups are essentially community drivers as they bring more people into a room to feed and entertain. The Oyster Wulff community continues to grow, and more and more people trust Wolven’s journey and the future. He hopes to be able to open his own bar and further develop people’s understanding of the half-shell.
There is a family nature to the oyster community that he hopes will bring interested guests to the farms where it all begins. Wolven wants to be at the dock with the guests to see the process that goes into the shimmering seashells. It would give farmers the opportunity to preach their product and spread the gospel of the clam.
Given the precariousness of the pandemic, the schedule for Oyster Wulff’s bricks and mortar is unknown. Fortunately, Denver can count on at least an ocean escape at Forget Me Not.
Forget Me Not is located at 227 Clayton Street, Denver. Oyster Wulff can be found there from Wednesday to Saturday.