Written by Dahlia Merlo on 05.09.14

This year marks the 6th annual Montreal Oysterfest, and the years of experience have not made the process of organizing the event any easier or less hectic. The festival keeps growing every year, with new events and surging popularity. We managed to snatch founder Daniel Notkin out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his project. When asked how he was, his response was: “insane.” We believe it!

Montreall.com: Where did you come up with the idea for Montreal’s Oysterfest?

Daniel Notkin: I had gone to my first Oysterfest 6 years ago in Ottawa with my sister who had some buddies who were champion oyster shuckers. It was a great event and I thought to myself: we’re a big city; we’re a metropolitan city. I want to make our own international event. Let’s do an Oysterfest. So I put my own money down, which was about $10 000. Back then that was a lot of money to me and everyone said I’d lose it all but I did it anyway. The first year we were about 170 people and we broke even, and we pretty much broke even for the first three years. People came and people loved it.

Montreall.com: How has Oysterfest evolved over the past 6 years?

Daniel Notkin: Everyone looks forward to the event. I ask people about other events: is this like Oysterfest? And they say no, and I ask again about the next one. We put so much love and effort into making it unique, to make sure that everyone’s experience is unique. Down to the layout, we focus on the feng shui of the location. We spend 5 days a week placing everyone and making sure it all balances. We like to keep it engaging. We want to engage people by having different events, things that are integrally interesting to people. We are constantly evolving to keep people interested. We have great bands, shucking competitions, and great restaurants and food. We like to constantly be engaged.

Montreall.com: Oysterfest wasn’t always in Terrasses Bonsecours, but with the growth of the event, the venue had to grow too. Do you hope to keep expanding? If so, where do you dream of hosting Oysterfest in the future?

Daniel Notkin: We are so happy with the location. It was always our goal. We love being in the Old Port, on the island. The aspect of dealing with the city is great but bureaucracy is sometimes difficult, of course. We love the Old Port though. We want to be a sponsor and be part of what makes the Old Port great. But if we do expand, the world is our oyster. For now though, we’re very happy with where we are.

Montreall.com: How did you choose the Open Pier Foundation to donate proceeds to?

Daniel Notkin: The festival’s goal has always been to extend knowledge of the ocean to individuals. We want to create an intrinsic knowledge-based system relating to seafood. If I bring someone a salmon and I ask them how old the salmon is, they have no idea. If I ask the same about an oyster, they have no idea. Why don’t we have this association with our food alongside a respect for it? We want to return to that understanding and that respect for our food and where it comes from. When you give people knowledge and information about their food, they develop a respect for it. We hope that we can help the Open Pier Foundation give that complementary aspect that so many other programs try to give.

Montreall.com: What made you add an extra day to the festival?

Daniel Notkin: Saturday is the Montreal amateur open. There were too many competitions and we wanted everyone to be involved. It’s also like an open house. It’s a quiet little half day followed by our big full day on Sunday.

Montreall.com: There are so many different restaurants that participate at Oysterfest. Is there a foodie theme you prefer to stick to, or do you have a “come one come all” attitude in regards to the participating restaurants?

Daniel Notkin: We really like people who are passionate about food. This year there were new restaurants that wanted to be a part of the festival. We want people who want to be involved and make a difference. We don’t want to refuse anyone and we’re happy that all these people are really excited about it. We want that kind of energy at the festival.

Montreall.com: Can we expect you to be a part of different festivals in the future?

Daniel Notkin: We always want to be involved, so our import company and catering company do a lot of catering events throughout the year. We like to contribute to other events to make them all great. Our main focus is to create awareness with the Open Pier foundation. Another yearlong project is to hopefully open a restaurant where people can keep coming back to enjoy a great experience. Really though we want to keep contributing and to make a difference. In terms of festivals, we’ll see. Oysterfest is still our baby and we’d like to see it grow.

This year’s Oysterfest will be held at the Terrasses Bonsecours Basin on September 6th and 7th. For more information on what to expect at the Montreal Oysterfest, check out our guide here.

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