Oliver Thames’ mother once scolded him for cooking a bushel of oysters over a propane burner, protesting that he was “steaming the flavor out.” After a taste, he saw she was right. In fact, he’s since become passionate about the traditional Lowcountry practice of roasting clusters on steel plates covered in wet burlap, all over a wood flame. “You can taste the fire,” he says. “And the flavor is so much better.”
In 2011, the McClellanville resident put that passion to work launching Bull’s Bay OYRO, a catering company providing wood-fired oyster roasts for parties. Needing a cooker, he designed his own; area welder Frankie Colleton fabricated the prototype using scrap metal. Then they built another. Soon, folks were asking to rent the invention. Thames forayed into retail when both cookers were on loan and a third customer contacted him about buying one.
Since that first sale, Thames has worked with other locals, including engineer Ed Jessen and Bulls Bay OYRO employee Thomas Beach, to standardize the design and streamline production, which now takes place in Goose Creek. The resulting sleek cooker caught the eye of Garden & Gun magazine, which honored Thames as the overall winner of its prestigious Made in the South Awards in late 2014.
Meanwhile, Bulls Bay OYRO is developing grill attachments and other accessories for its signature product. And Thames, who once had to custom-design a 24-foot roaster to feed 450 people for a large event, is eager to see what the future brings. “I’m always up for a challenge,” he says.