Oyster Roast marks 16 years as fundraiser for Waterworks

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, January 31, 2023

SALISBURY — Saturday night, the Waterworks Visual Art Center and the F&M Trolley Barn were the place to be, and the sold-out crowd attending the Waterworks’ Oyster Roast fundraiser knew it.

The annual event, which had been on a COVID-related hiatus for two years, came back with a roar this weekend, with about 350 in attendance.

“It was awesome, we were so thrilled to welcome everybody back,” Waterworks Executive Director Ann Scott Clement said. There had been hopes that the event would take place last year, but when COVID numbers rose again after Christmas 2021, the event was canceled “and we immediately began working on this year, with the hope that in 2023, we would be OK.”

The event is the largest fundraiser the organization holds every year, and this year marked the 16th time attendees gathered for good food, great music, camaraderie and a silent auction. Clement said all funds raised go toward programming, including exhibitions, education and outreach.

“This year felt like a fresh event, with a new layout and a new caterer,” added Clement. This year’s meal, and in fact now next years, was provided by Jason Hall from Washington Crab Company out of Little Washington, N.C. Clement said her organization found him, and were absolutely “blown away” by his performance.

“We have gotten lots of positive feedback on Jason and his crew,” she said. “And we had some new offerings, including a macaroni and cheese, which people seemed happy about, and these signature potatoes that he did that were just amazing.” The potatoes, according to Hall, take two days to fully prepare and involve a marinade, but he was not ready to give out the secret Saturday night. He also brought everything necessary for the meal and, more specifically, for an oyster roast, from the shucking tables to all equipment needed to actually shuck them.

“It was turnkey, which made it so incredibly simple,” said Clement. In addition to the oysters, there was steamed, peel and eat shrimp, hush puppies, red and white cole slaw and rolls, all to accompany the 80-100 pounds of chopped barbecue donated by Jay Owens of College Barbecue. For dessert, Cold Stone Creamery offered about four different ice cream flavors with toppings to turn it into a sundae if desired.

But the star of the show, the oysters, which were either steamed or raw, filled the air with the briney smell of the sea, and it was not just Hall’s crew doing the shucking. Many guests grabbed their own buckets of oysters, an oyster knife, glove and towels and got busy separating the steamed or raw meat from the shells.

Tom Kisor, a Salisbury resident who spent 25 years in restaurant work, including a stint with Disney, had friends keeping him supplied with beer while he worked for about 20 minutes or more shucking oysters for others.

“I’m loving being back” at this event,” he said, “it’s a great way to spend a Saturday night.”

Michael and Paulette Fox traveled to the event from Greensboro.

“We came about a month ago and spent a day in Salisbury,” Michael said. “We saw the signs for this and bought tickets.” The pair also bid on a few items in the silent auction and at the end of the night, one of the items, a beautiful pearl necklace from Barnhardt Jewelers, went home with Paulette. “This is a really neat town, we thoroughly enjoyed it, so we’re happy to be here,” said Michael.

Clement said there was a mixture of new attendees and old, and that many who have been coming since the start are now coming back with children and even grandchildren.

“We had young, 20-somethings all the way up to retirees, but for many, this has become a tradition,” she said. One returning guest was Valinda Isenhower, who at one time was on the Waterworks board.

“It’s hard to believe it’s only been two years — it felt like much longer,” she said. “I’ve really missed this. It’s such fun!”

There was a wide range of items in the silent auction that were donated by nearly 60 different businesses and non-profits, and the total value of the donated items was about $7,500, said Clement, about $5,000 of which was raised in bids for the items. That money represents solid profit for the organization.

“I just want to reiterate our thanks for everyone’s support of WaterWorks,” said Clement. “We have lots of organizations that were started in the late ’50s and early ’60s here in Salisbury, started by an incredible group of visionaries who wanted to have the same quality of life and opportunities as the bigger cities.” And Waterworks, one of those organizations, has thrived with community support, so much so that the organization will celebrate 64 years on April 1.

Next year’s Oyster Roast is already on the books for Jan. 27, 2024, and Hall from Washington Crab Company is already booked.